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  • Fact or Fiction: The Twins Way Didn't Work for Matt Shoemaker


    Matthew Lenz

    Recently, Matt Shoemaker said, "The Twins wanted to get more out of me in spring training...but unfortunately, it failed miserably." Is there legitimacy in his claim, or is this just a struggling player looking to place blame elsewhere? I've investigated his career tendencies to answer this question.

    Image courtesy of © Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    In the article written by Dean Spiros of the Pioneer Press, Shoemaker says he is now pitching "the opposite of how the Twins wanted [him] to pitch." Perhaps this is why in 20 innings with the St. Paul Saints, he has a 1.80/3.82 ERA/FIP with improved strikeout and walk rates compared to the 60 1/3 innings he pitched with the Twins. Although 20 innings is a small sample, he's also keeping opposing hitters in the ballpark, which was a massive problem in his time with the Twins, where he has the third-highest home run per nine innings rate among all pitchers who have thrown 60 or more innings.

    In fairness to Shoemaker, he didn't completely trash the Twins and shouldered some of the blame by saying that "[he] could have said no." He also hopes to be back with the big league club at some point by saying, "I really like the Twins organization," he said. "The guys up top, the staff, that's where it's tough…." Truthfully, I don't think there is anything wrong with what Shoemaker said and how he said it. I believe that some of the headlines generated from these quotes made Shoemaker out to be the bad guy when in reality, he was taking some responsibility for his struggles.

    I'm not here to debate the semantics of what was said and how the media and fans interpreted it. But we can look into his claims that the Twins asked him to make adjustments that ultimately lead to him getting DFA'd, unclaimed, and assigned to the St. Paul Saints on July 1st.

    Pre-Twins Tendencies
    Before coming to the Twins, Matt Shoemaker had thrown more than 600 innings with a 3.86/4.03 ERA/FIP, 3.7 K/BB, and a 1.3 HR/9 over eight injury-riddled seasons. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014 and had an excellent 2016 season, but since then, he hasn't thrown 80 innings in a season due to various injuries to his arm, knee, and shoulder. The Twins were undoubtedly taking a risk on him, but most assumed that he would be a suitable piece for the back end of a rotation that had World Series hopes as long as he's healthy. Even the biggest naysayer couldn't have predicted the season that Shoemaker ended up having. Even Jeremy Maschino, who has no affiliation to the Twins or Shoemaker, was optimistic about the signing.

    In the aforementioned Pioneer Press article, Shoemaker claims that he's had success when he works up and down in the strike zone with changing speeds. Being that he's been oft-injured from 2017 to 2020, I decided to go back to his last full season in 2016, which also happens to be the most successful season of his career.
    338737236_ScreenShot2021-08-01at1_59_57PM.png.43c0a26f71b7726907cb02d7881d65c4.png
    Reviewing his Statcast Pitch Arsenal on Baseball Savant in that season, you can see that he'd throw his four-seam fastball and sinker up in the zone while Shoemaker threw his change-up and slider down in the zone. Quick note: depending on the year and the source, his change-up can also be classified as a split-finger. That change-up/split-finger, in particular, was about eight miles per hour slower than his four-seam with significantly more vertical movement and, according to Brooks Baseball, hitters slugged just .286 off of the pitch in 2016. These tendencies remained consistent when I looked at his career from 2013 to 2020 and seemingly aligned with what he said in the article. So what does "the opposite" of those tendencies look like for Shoemaker?

    2021 Tendencies with the Twins

    376919535_ScreenShot2021-08-01at1_34_43PM.png.2dbd1d41cc787f5a6424de69010cb998.png
    Right away, I'll again point out that what was classified as a "change-up" in 2016 was re-classified as a split-finger in 2017 and every year since. You can also see pretty quickly that Shoemaker did seem to adjust to the "Twins way" by relying more heavily on his slider in 2021 (thrown 24.5-percent of the time) than throughout his entire career (16.5-percent). That change may be what Shoemaker is referring to, which hitters have slugged .484 before the 2021 season. This year hitters are slugging .507 off his slider while his split-finger is still his most effective pitch with an opponent slugging percentage of .392. That said, I think Shoemaker needs to take a little more responsibility than saying, "I could have said no."

    Despite the increase in slider usage, his fastball, sinker, and split-finger tendencies are primarily in line with what he had done throughout his career. He throws his fastball higher in the zone coupled with his split-finger down in the zone, although his sinker heat map appears to be a little more erratic. In general, all of his heat maps are more erratic than those from his 2016, which is where I think he needs to take some responsibility for his struggles. Moreover, he may disagree with the pitch calling, but I can't imagine that the Twins were asking you to throw 92 mile per hour fastballs down the heart of the plate.

    Conclusion
    There is plenty of blame to share here. It's not all on the Twins, and it's not all on Matt Shoemaker. I think the Twins are at fault for asking Shoemaker to increase usage on the least effective pitch in his arsenal. As Shoemaker suggested in the article, what might work for one guy isn't necessarily going to work for the next guy. What's concerning to me is that his career numbers suggested that, yet the Twins went ahead with their heavy slider approach anyway. At the same time, it's clear that Shoemaker isn't as effective with his pitches as he was pre-injuries. Is that something that will improve as he gets more innings under his belt or something that can be fixed with a stint in the Minors? Time will tell, and now that the trade deadline has come and gone, I think it's only a matter of time before we see Shoemaker back in a Twins uniform.

    What were your thoughts on Shoemaker's claims? Were they legit or just a disgruntled player failing to own up to his struggles?

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    Shoemaker was never good, but it's fair to say he has never been this bad.

    When you are a professional, it is expected for you to speak up if someone is trying to make you do something you know is wrong for you.  He learned that ultimately he is responsible for his work, not the people yapping in his ear.  He's the one who lost his job.

    This was just a dumb signing for the Twins.  Coaching him like he was a rookie wasn't the first mistake.  I would like to see him pitch again for the Twins this year, as I'm really curious about what would happen.

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    None of us have enough first hand knowledge to know the real story.  But thanks for all the information, Matt.

    What concerns me is whether or not the Twins are trying to get all pitchers to focus on some of the same things, ie,, throw X pitch high in the zone, throw more sliders, etc.  Every pitcher is different, would expect the best staff would be one that gets the most out of each pitcher based on his individual strengths.

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    I know the Twins (and much of the league) love their high spin sliders, but if they're "forcing" pitchers who don't have effective sliders to throw them more I'm very concerned. So if we assume the change Shoemaker is mad about is the Twins having him throw his slider more, then it seems to me the problem started as a Twins problem and morphed to a Shoemaker problem as his struggles continued.

    At some point when you're getting you brains bashed in on the mound and it's the slider getting smashed every time stop throwing your slider (Twins analytic team should've been noticing these numbers, too, and that concerns me). Maybe the game plan was to use the slider more coming in, but while you're on the mound you have the power to shake off the catcher. As you watch your career circle the drain it's on you to throw the pitches you think are going to save your career.

    So I agree it's a Twins and Shoemaker problem. I don't think he was out of line with anything he said, and he definitely should have said "no" before he ended up back in AAA with no other team wanting him.

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    Excellent write-up, Matthew. Well-researched and fair-minded. A home run.

    I think this story hit some of us hard because it fits one of the fear narratives we have about this organization under Falvey/Levine and Baldelli/Johnson - that they've got a dogmatic approach, they think they're the smartest people in baseball, and they pay more attention to numbers than to players.

    Plus, us fans have been hit hard by the reality that the team we had dreamed of seeing win a championship is now breaking apart and sinking to the bottom of MLB. "We had a 100-win pace ballclub for two years and all I got was this lousy AL Central Division Title T-Shirt."

    But, as some cooler heads have posted here, it is possible that the Twins can adjust quickly. It is possible that some of the problems are internal, but some are maybe from the new players themselves and some are just a matter of terrible luck with regard to injury and recovery. And as you note here, in the case of Shoemaker, maybe it's all three.

    That said, the Twins better be very open to criticism. They've traded away top players, they've given away new young stars for absolutely nothing, and, outside of Cruz, their FA signings performed terribly. They've got a lot of fair criticism coming this offseason - from fans and from players within the organization. Time to listen and to learn some hard lessons now.

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    If the Twins are going to continue o sign "older" pitchers with a track record of some success then its on the Twins AND that player to follow thru on that players strengths that gave him that record of success. I don't know what transpired with Shoe but he was a pretty decent pitcher before coming to the Twins, and since going down to AAA he's looked good. Is it because lower level or because he's pitching his way?

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    34 minutes ago, Dodecahedron said:

    Shoemaker was never good, but it's fair to say he has never been this bad.

    When you are a professional, it is expected for you to speak up if someone is trying to make you do something you know is wrong for you.  He learned that ultimately he is responsible for his work, not the people yapping in his ear.  He's the one who lost his job.

    This was just a dumb signing for the Twins.  Coaching him like he was a rookie wasn't the first mistake.  I would like to see him pitch again for the Twins this year, as I'm really curious about what would happen.

    I don’t agree that he was never good. His career numbers were better than Berríos coming into this season. Health was an issue  for him from 2017-2020 but when he was healthy he was good.

    I want to see him back here too. Very curious to see his pitch usage and effectiveness, or lack thereof.

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    The only way Shoemaker was misused was by not pulling sooner when it was apparent he was not pitching well.

    For example in a start against KC he allowed 9 runs in 1/3rd of an inning and in a relief appearance against the White Sox, 8 runs in 2.2 innings.

    A manager needs to protect players from this level of failure by pulling them from the game sooner. 

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    Certainly part of the issue is usage rate of the slider.  The other part at least as important (and perhaps more important) is location.  Notice his change/split had more accuracy and purpose previously with two hot locations at the knees and lower/left quadrant whereas now his location is middle thigh-high...that's a problem.  His sinker used to be outer half and now it middle and all over the place...also a problem.  It's possible that the slider usage took him out of his comfort zone, hurt his confidence and impacted location of other pitches.  We can hope that's the case so that now he'll not only reduce usage of the slider, but pitch more effectively overall.

    A topic I look forward to post-Berrios trade is the building of a playoff-caliber rotation.  I think it's smart to sign for 1 year veterans with rebound potential or injury prone to compete for starts with young guys for the #4/#5 spots in the rotation.  However we gotta have 3 spots locked in like we did to start this season.  If the FO thinks we're at least a couple of years out then do they let Pineda walk and just promote all the top prospects next year?  If things are looking good for a couple of them the Twins then get active after the 2023 season?  If that's the case why even keep Maeda - except to prevent STH'ers like me from bailing?  Perhaps they think this is a "correction" rather than a recession for the team and instead got very good return on a pitcher they weren't going to be able to sign and will be aggressive in the FA market after the 2022 season to contend in 2023.

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    I am not sure what to think.  Likely some truth to both sides.  In the recent past the Twins seemed to have some success getting a little more out of relievers they picked up from the garbage pile and made them better thinking Harper and Wisler. It seemed like maybe they helped Maeda and Pineda but they were always pretty good pitchers before they came over. Hill and Baily didn't look that great with us granted coming back from injury and obviously Colome, Happ and Shoemaker only got worse once with the Twins.  It certainly doesn't seem like this is the place to become a better pitcher at the MLB level. At least looking at the latest data that I can tell.

    Yeah Berrios was home grown and several of my examples are guys that are past their prime and likely due for regression but still the fact remains they didn't squeeze anything extra out of them and most guys got worse not better.  I don't think this is just a Twins issue though as lot's of players stats fluctuate year to year often due to injury of just plain getting older and less effective.  However, teams that do a better job like Tampa end up in better positions. Even Tampa can't fix every guy that comes through their system but they seem better than maybe any other team in the league at getting the most out of guys that come through IMO. 

    I do still feel like the Twins have improved their pitching development in the minors.  You look at other teams affiliates and we are generally getting better pitching out of our teams.  Pitching talent is bubbling up to AA and AAA whether it tranlates to MLB is another story but it looks good to this point to me.

    Obviously the Twins wanted Shoemaker to do things he wasn't comfortable doing.  That isn't always a bad thing as it can sometimes lead to untapped potential but trying to teach an old dog new tricks doesn't generally work out well.  AAA is way different than MLB so his stats there don't mean too much to me. The one thing I did notice the few times I did watch SHoemaker on MLB gameday app is that he often would get 0-2 or 1-2 and then throw something right down the middle of the plate that generally got crushed.  Saw the same behavior from Colome from time to time.  I get that you have to throw strikes to get guys out but why not work the corners more when ahead like that?

    Anyway like I said probably truth to both sides but let's face it Shoe was never going to be a top of the line pitcher.  He was always 5th starter material at best.  I think it is time for both sides to move on.  Glad he is pitching well and maybe he can get a gig somewhere else or maybe he can excel out of the pen hard to say. He just doesn't have anything that looks better than the young number 5's we have already to me though.

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    I fear our sabremetric FO and manager and coaches all feel that they know more than anyone else.  Old school can be mixed with new and pitchers can be left to do what they feel best with.  I have less than good expectations with this leadership group and I hope I am proven wrong. 

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    I think Shoe took responsibility merely by taking the AAA assignment and, at the same time, is attempting to show the Twins that he can still pitch, just not their way.  A lot of players would have left and signed a minor league contract with another team, then publicly blamed the team they left once they settled back into a groove.  He stuck it out here, and would actually like to pitch again; to me that is taking responsibility as well as explaining why it didn't work out.  You know, sometimes the fans deserve to hear these things; they are the ones paying to see the stuff we all saw and they wonder why it all went south.  Good luck, Shoe, and don't ever again let a computer tell you how to play baseball. 

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    Good analysis.

    I actually like that Shoemaker spoke up; seeing former Twins go on to success elsewhere always makes me wish we had local reporters who'd go and ask, "What has changed?"

    But in this case, Shoemaker was pretty vague and it didn't make a whole lot of sense. As Matthew's article says, it's doubtful the Twins told Shoemaker to  groove his fastballs down the middle of the plate, which is clearly his main issue. My guess is if there's an issue, it's the sequencing of pitches that he didn't like. His slider and four-seamer usage is up and his sinker usage is down. This would track too as they cut Martin Perez's sinker usage in half, Kyle Gibson's sinker usage dropped in favor of more four-seamers when the new front office took over and JA Happ's usage of those pitches saw similar changes as well.

    Of course, if the front office doesn't prefer sinkerballers, perhaps it would be more prudent to not sign them, instead of signing them and then asking them to change?

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    Lot of unknowns here, and I wouldn't expect much information from the twins staff on this issue (there's really no winning for them: if they say "look we didn't tell him to throw meatballs down the heart of the plate and that's what killed him" then they're going to get whacked for bashing a player, and if they say "we wanted to tweak his slider and have him throw it a bit more and he didn't change how he threw it all" then it's a he said/he said where they're talking past each other, etc).

    Like most, I'd say it looks like there's some shared blame. I'd weight it slightly more on Shoemaker: a) he's a veteran, b) if he didn't like the sequencing/selection it's not like he couldn't shake it off, and c) the heat maps show the anecdotal impression of him grooving a sinker in the heart of the plate sure is born out on the stats. I also discount the AAA performance to some degree: if a veteran MLB starter can't dominate AAA hitters, then he's either injured or cooked...

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    3 hours ago, roger said:

    None of us have enough first hand knowledge to know the real story.  But thanks for all the information, Matt.

    What concerns me is whether or not the Twins are trying to get all pitchers to focus on some of the same things, ie,, throw X pitch high in the zone, throw more sliders, etc.  Every pitcher is different, would expect the best staff would be one that gets the most out of each pitcher based on his individual strengths.

    Absolutely agree. I was pretty surprised to see how much he was leaning on his slider being that it seemed to be his least effective pitch. Like you said, we don’t know, but I’d imagine they thought they could re-work it and make it work. But like you said, what works for one pitcher isn’t necessarily going to work for the next. Moreover, why did they never adjust?? It was clear it wasn’t working.

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    I was pleased to see Shumaker go, but I wouldn't mind if he came back and pitched well enough to be part of the rotation, or a reliable reliever.  Wasn't it Corey Kluber who was sent back down to fix his problems? I don't expect Shumaker to react like Kluber, but it would be nice.  :)

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    Not all sliders are considered equal... the same as all fastballs are not considered equal... as a Major league ( any)  pitcher you find out what works and use it.. as a team.. you job isn't to try to stick square pegs in round holes...  and a little secret... The Rays Arms vary so much in what they throw.. its not like all their pitchers are slider heavy... and the final thought.. learn how to pitch.. and that starts with control... The throw it somewhere at the box mentality has ruined more pitchers than i can count... please teach them pitching not throwing... and if you don't know how to do that... get a different job..

    Edited by DocSavage
    typo
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    I liked about every comment here because right or wrong the opinions are just smart!

    I applaud Shoemaker for being open and honest and taking at least some responsibility for not performing. He should. But just being a realist, not every single pitcher, or player, "fits" with an organization. We've seen it time and time again. It's reality. The Twins have COMPLETELY revamped their milb system when it comes to treating pitchers and players as individuals and tailoring their developmental approach. And we've heard from current players and previous players in regard to the massive change within the system. 

    But I have NO PROBLEM saying Rocco, Johnson, scouts and the FO may have just made a mistake on a guy. They THOUGHT they had a really good plan for an experienced back end SP that would work. Sorry, s**t happens and you aren't always right. But then again, as Shoe states, he could have said no. And he has the right to also shake off signs. And shouldn't he be doing well at AAA as a healthy and experienced pitcher?

    But have to admit I'm curious why he took the milb assignment instead of going elsewhere. Makes little sense to me unless NOBODY was knocking on his door.

    IF the Twins think think this was bad communication and a mistake that can be rectified, I have no problem. IF Shoemaker really likes the organization,  no problem. We need a couple veteran SP for 2022, which MIGHT include Pineda. But could Shoe, previously quality in his career when healthy, be an option? Please.

    Shoemaker is trying to get a contract for 2022 and not really blaming anyone because he doesn't want to rock the boat.  He's at AAA FOR THE MOMENT, because he's a good guy and provides IP. He's probably gone a week from now due to additions and promotions.

    Over and done, it was a really smart flier for a talented but frequently injured SP that just didn't fit. 

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    22 hours ago, Matthew Lenz said:

    I don’t agree that he was never good. His career numbers were better than Berríos coming into this season.

    The only thing I can say to this is, you are looking at the wrong numbers.  There is more than adequate proof in the numbers that Shoemaker would not make most teams as a starter.  My thoughts to his signing was, oh well, he'll be cut by the end of spring training or he will work from the bullpen as the long reliever.  Unfortunately....

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    Hopefully this is a "educational moment" for Wes Johnson and the FO. The Rays way, meaning leaning into the variety of strengths of a pitching staff and acquiring as much variety as possible, seems like a better approach than trying to fit every pitcher into the same mould. 

    The former regime also had a "fit everyone to the same mould" approach and we all got frustrated with that. 

    I look forward to seeing how management responds to this kind of failure and myopia going forward.

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    11 hours ago, Dodecahedron said:

    The only thing I can say to this is, you are looking at the wrong numbers.  There is more than adequate proof in the numbers that Shoemaker would not make most teams as a starter.  My thoughts to his signing was, oh well, he'll be cut by the end of spring training or he will work from the bullpen as the long reliever.  Unfortunately....

    What numbers am I looking at? Summary below is from 2013 (Shoemaker's first year) through 2020. The only thing that Berrios clearly has over Shoemaker is durability, otherwise they are similar or Shoemaker is better in nearly every statistical category. I understand durability is important, and that's probably why you weren't impressed with his signing, but I don't see how you can argue that Berrios had better numbers.

    Screen Shot 2021-08-03 at 7.55.48 PM.png

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    13 hours ago, Matthew Lenz said:

    What numbers am I looking at? Summary below is from 2013 (Shoemaker's first year) through 2020. The only thing that Berrios clearly has over Shoemaker is durability, otherwise they are similar or Shoemaker is better in nearly every statistical category. I understand durability is important, and that's probably why you weren't impressed with his signing, but I don't see how you can argue that Berrios had better numbers.

    Screen Shot 2021-08-03 at 7.55.48 PM.png

    That's the problem.  Berrios's first year is his worst.  Shoemaker's first year is his best.  

    Shoemaker once performed as a #3 pitcher.  This last occurred in 2016.  For some perspective, in 2016, Obama was President, Abe Vigoda was still alive, and the last VCR rolled off the production line.

    I'm surprised so many people judged Shoemaker based on what he did half a decade ago, and continue to do so.  It took some people less than a minute to look at Shoemaker's numbers and see a train wreck.  There is a reason Shoemaker was still available when he was, and it's the same reason he signed for only $2M.  Do you think Berrios is going to sign for $2M?

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    On 8/4/2021 at 9:36 AM, Dodecahedron said:

    That's the problem.  Berrios's first year is his worst.  Shoemaker's first year is his best.  

    Shoemaker once performed as a #3 pitcher.  This last occurred in 2016.  For some perspective, in 2016, Obama was President, Abe Vigoda was still alive, and the last VCR rolled off the production line.

    I'm surprised so many people judged Shoemaker based on what he did half a decade ago, and continue to do so.  It took some people less than a minute to look at Shoemaker's numbers and see a train wreck.  There is a reason Shoemaker was still available when he was, and it's the same reason he signed for only $2M.  Do you think Berrios is going to sign for $2M?

    First it was "he was never good" and now it's "once performed as a #3" which is still undervaluing his 2013-2016.

    First it was "you are looking at the wrong numbers" and now it's "well that's because of the first half of his career". 

    What's funny is, by arguing how "bad" (read: injured) Shoemaker has been in the last half decade, you're effectively pointing out how unimpressive Berrios has been considering Shoemaker's career numbers are better. He's had five "bad" seasons and STILL had better numbers coming into 2021. Yikes.

    Anyway, kudos to you on foreseeing the 8+ ERA when, even in his "bad" years he never had an ERA above 5. You are wiser than me!

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