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  1. I was thinking the other day... Do the Twins have anyone on their current roster that can help recruit a 2019 free agent? Last year I know Jonathan Schoop was instrumental in bringing Nelson Cruz to Minnesota. I wonder which connections the Twins front office can leverage to help sign players this offseason. Here are a few I found when doing some research today: - Zach Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi were teammates on the 2012 USA Futures Team. - Thad Levine was the Assitant GM on the Rangers that traded for Cole Hamels in 2015. - Gerrit Cole and Marwin Gonzalez were teammates on the Astros in 2018. - Josh Donaldson follows Special Assistant of Baseball Operations, Torii Hunter on Instagram Please post your findings below!
  2. It’s April 16, 2018. The Twins own a 7-4 record. The front office has added free agents at several key positions to complement an 85-win team from the previous year that earned its first post-season berth in seven years. It's April 16, and despite a string of postponements due to an early spring snowstorm, the team is playing well, and flying to Puerto Rico for an unusual two-game series against their division rivals. Minnesota Twins and Puerto Rico, April 2018 (copyright Brace Hemmelgarn, for Twins/MLB) After dropping the first game of the series, native Puerto Rican Jose Berrios pitches 7 shutout innings in the second game, and the Twins win in the 16th inning on a Ryan LaMarre base hit. LaMarre was a minor league signing prior to the season who won a spot on the team with a good spring. With the win, the Twins reclaim first place with an 8-5 record and prepare to fly to Tampa to play a series against the Rays. Then it fell apart. In the first game of that series, free agent relief pitcher Zach Duke failed to touch first base on a toss from Joe Mauer that would have ended the 10th inning; instead, the winning run scored all the way from second base. The Twins lost to Blake Snell in the second game of the series, and in the final game, free agent addition Addison Reed surrendered a 9th inning, walk-off home run to Carlos Gomez. Then the Twins flew to New York for a four game series in Yankee Stadium. After losing the first three games in their typically inept Yankee Stadium way, the Twins had a chance to salvage the series finale. Starter Kyle Gibson held the Yankees to just one hit over 6 shutout innings, and the Twins entered the bottom of the 9th with a 3-1 lead. The first Yankees batter reached when first baseman Logan Morrison, yet another offseason free agent addition, failed to scoop a not-too-difficult short hop throw from Miguel Sano. That baserunner gave the Yankees life. Two batters later, free agent closer Fernando Rodney surrendered another game winning, walk-off home run, a three-run shot by Gary Sanchez. The Twins flew home from New York on a seven game losing streak. They tacked on another dismal loss to the Reds, extending their losing streak to eight. Their record sank to 8-13 and they would not climb back to .500 for the rest of the 2018 season. The free agent acquisitions prior to 2018 were meant to complement the young corps of players that had been developed internally in the organization, but instead, the free agents seemed to torpedo the season. This season, so far, is different. Much different. Those players from 2018 are elsewhere, and the players brought in by the front office for 2019 are making the plays. First baseman C. J. Cron, coming from Tampa Bay, has proven just as adept at first base as Joe Mauer, making all the scoops and showing more pop at the plate. Many fans (I was one of those) thought that the front office should encourage Mauer to sign an extension for 2019, but Cron appears to be performing just as well. Second base pickup Jonathan Schoop gives the middle infield youth and arm strength that Brian Dozier did not have. Here is his throw from shallow left in Houston April 22 to nab Josh Reddick at the plate: https://twitter.com/Twins/status/1120513457491795975 And, “super utility” player Marwin Gonzalez, despite his slow start at the plate, is making the plays in the field, while filling in at third base, at first base, and in left. His sliding catch in the first inning against the Astros on April 29 saved perhaps two runs, in a game the Twins won with only a single run, 1-0. All of this, while free agent designated hitter Nelson Cruz is hitting even better than advertised. The additions to the pitching staff for 2019 did not seem impactful; however, Ryne Harper and Blake Parker have been assets in the bullpen, and Martin Perez has now strung together four good starts. It’s a group of pitchers who are far outperforming last season’s acquisitions Zach Duke, Fernando Rodney, and Lance Lynn. After 30 games in 2018, the Twins had already suffered five walk-off losses. Here in 2019, none as of yet. While it’s yet to be seen whether the pitchers will continue to protect leads, the new additions to the every day lineup are providing enough offense and defense to keep the team in the win column more often than not. As Jonah Keri, writing for The Athletic, summarized it: The combination of up-and-comers in their 20s, big-hitting veteran imports and managerial guidance [from Rocco Baldelli] has borne fruit. A lot can be said of Baldelli as well, the new Twins manager and perhaps biggest offseason acquisition of all. But that's another article for another day. Prior to the 2018 season, the front office might have thought they were acquiring the final complementary parts to a team that won 85 games the previous season. It did not work out that way. The acquisitions for the 2019 season, however, are working out incredibly well so far. And I haven’t even mentioned Willians Astudillo yet.
  3. My Theoretical Mindset during the week; The status quo surrounding the Twins all offseason was their stubbornness and inability to commit to any outside assets (in free agency or on the trade block), yet until recently did the Twins finally break that narrative. But… they were in-house pieces. By committing to two sprightly and talented yet unproven stars, have they overplayed their hand on their future plans? The Twins right now are waltzing into what I would define as, a free-agency sweet spot. Where every added contributor would stabilize a liability, and boost their win total, which are at such a premium. The roster right now looks to be somewhere around the ballpark (lame pun not intended), to a potential spot in the postseason. Granted if nothing goes wrong (i.e injuries, supensions, curses) we could be staring towards a roster destined to secure a playoff, and readily prepared to be supplemented during the trade deadline. The added emphasis on a win or two or in the Twins case, blown-save-catastrophes-galore might end up sinking the ship when it comes to contention. If last year's bullpen collapses weren’t enough for you, I would say by far the Twins weakest position group lies in the most erratic, fragile and frail baseball clusters in all of baseball; the relievers. I spoke about this briefly in my last article, but what Keuchel or more importantly in Kimbrel possess is a semblance of stability so unprecedented that the last guy to be a stabilizer for us, is being inducted into our hall of fame. If we focus on Kimbrel in depth, the guy is as rare of a breed your ever going to find in the relief pitching industry. I’m not going to speak about Kimbrel in depth, but what really matters is that they both (Kimbrel and Keuchel) have walked the walks, and might play that kickstarter-trailblazer kinda player to get this steam boat sailing. Somehow the Twins front office has managed to finagle towards a somewhat competitive roster, and despite not committing to any external assets, keeping the books dry of anything, and keeping the payroll at or equal to ≈ 100 million is a remarkable feat, no doubt about it. But is it time for the Twins front office to relent and issue a blockbuster contract? That’s very debatable. Into the Nitty Gritty with Kepler and Polanco Here’s a basic 101 on how rookie contracts work: This rookie contract system is a focal point of the Collective Bargaining agreement and is tweaked and polished constantly, but it goes as follows; Typically ameuteur hitters agree to a contract with major league clubs coming out of school, or out of the states globally and major league clubs are given a 5 year window on either promoting the player, or releasing him. That promotion would then start the ticking on his 6-7 year free agency departure clock, and would stay with his team through his prime and peak years on a cheap deal, until he would reach free agency (expectedly after he would be years past his best seasons*). During his 3-4 year seasons, the players earns close to nothing on a athletic player scale (I say this because 500k seems like money heaven to me). If the team elects to let the player stick around, when the player hits his 5-7 year season he can contest for a slight raise, provided if both sides agree to a compromise. Until his 7th or 8th year does the player final get his rights to a free departure, and test the market for his free agency rights. *there are exception to this (Nelson Cruz etc). We’ve seen this philosophy catch some steam in the present, with several clubs purchasing the rights of players who aren’t “seasoned or proven”, and maybe haven’t even made it to the league in some cases. What this leaves fans to savor is team friendly-contracts sculpted to buyout years of arbitration, for a couple years of free agency. Theoretically, this consumes the prime or peak years from a player, but is it really worth it. Let’s take a look. *Tabulated according to Spotrac For Kepler and Polanco, we’re seeing a hike in annual pay, over the arbitration years that somewhat amount to as what the players would earn in full amount in free agency. Both Kepler and Polanco have received somewhat mildly-risky contracts. Both have underachieved in their time on the major league spectrum, and in Polanco's case been busted for doping with PEDS. These contracts (5yr, 35 mill & 5yr, 25 mill) aren’t going to hinder or cripple the Twins in the future. What I find to be quite interesting is that the Twins have a healthy and expanding prospect pipeline coursing with talent, and yet they still inclined to purchase the underwhelming services of Kepler and Polanco. According to my fortune predictor (oh boy I’m talented fellow, yeet) these are the scenarios I see turning out. When the Twins finally open the window to a championship pursuit, either… Polanco and Kepler are shrewd bargains Or they both continue to lag Twins lineup, and logjam the outfield rotation (with prospects + Cave) I decided to input Scott Kingery, because I thought his situation with the Phillies is an excellent example of when jumping the gun isn’t as picture perfect as it might seem. His contract is nearly identical in terms with Polanco and Kepler, mainly because they have the same backfire caveats and loopholes in dispatching Kingery once he gets old. Kingery hasn’t developed as rapidly as one would expect his minor league numbers would indicate, and played to the tune of a NEGATIVE W.A.R!!! (-1.5). The Phils thought he would form a dynamite paring with Hoskins and the future skeleton of that team. Instead, Manager Gabe Kapler is juggling at-bats between Maikel Franco and Kingery, who are competing to “win or earn” third base. This just hits me clear in the head as when this doesn’t work as anticipated. Just some added insight…. Both of these scenarios have their pros and cons. You might have to shuffle playing time between the chain of prospects and the fitful likes of Kepler, and/or Polanco. In this case you unload Kepler and/or Polanco for equitable return values, and propel prospects to replace them. Or both Kepler and Polanco emerge as building blocks and thrive, and you yield for a established major league chip, and supplement for an immediate push (hopefully sooner rather than later). The time tables are rough and tweakable, but both the former and latter are good problems to have. In my mind the extinction of the concept for paying someone for what they’re worth is truly baffling me. It strikes me as that teams are playing with fire and lottery tickets, and trying to pull a quick on the player/(s). The truth to the matter is they aren’t premising the agreement toward constructive proof but rather on whim, Lady Luck, and canniness. Even with the comprehensive and elaborate analytics (which I’m all for, frankly) I don’t think it’s plausible in the right shape of mind to predict someone future who hasn’t set a baseline for what their ascension might be. For all I know, Kepler could go and revert into a complete shell of himself and morph into the eternal spirit of Nick Punto. That might be a little far-fetched, but the guy hasn’t established himself as any kind of consistent regular. He isn’t a ‘proven’ left handed vs left handed hitter (granted he improved from his abysmal marks from a year ago, but there’s a lot more left to be desired). He could turn into a complete sponge against lefty’s, and be relegated to an exclusive platoon role against righties. He’s an admirable right-fielder whose play is fairly consistent, but nothing out-worldly ala The Buck. Could he be in line for a regression? I guess that’s up to him. Typically young players similar to Kepler and Polanco both experiences growing pains, and excruciatingly painful rough patches, but what usually leaves with people is that semblance of promise and hope that a player instills into a fanbase. Kepler and Polanco are by no means generational cornerstone players, but what Kepler and Polanco possess is that consistency a team as inconsistent as the Twins desperately needs. Every position has been a constantly rotating carousel of prospects, and the Twins decided to shore this up, by agreeing to terms with Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco each on intriguing multi year contract that speak to the mindset of the Falvine Front Office. I guess I’m playing Devil’s Advocate right now, because I’m sputtering trying to unravel their rationale. There aren’t many other motives for Kepler &co and Polanco &co not to reject these deal like this. This is guaranteed money your dealing with, and the signals and indicators in this suppressed markets wouldn’t sway them that they would command much more (or any offers at all) in the open market. I wanted to take a closer examination at Kepler’s logic in this, because I find much more faith in Polanco, RF is a much more vital to Target Field, and granted he got the more lucrative contract. In Kepler’s case, in some ways your betting with yourself; do you believe that Kepler would turn into a monster player and demand a lucrative contract, or do you settle with what in turn is an appealing and secure the offered multi year deal. It’s as playing with fire in the Twins perspective, and in light of him settling you could deconstruct this in either two way: 1. I’m concerned that Kepler would settle with a buy-low contract like this and is satisfied with staying average 2. Or the Twins got an absolute steal of a player. The downsides and upsides are obviously staring us in the eyes. The guys looks he’s a got plenty of a Major League regular’s tools, but the intangibles are worrisome to me. He looks flustered, and stoic at the plate. His demeanor is “I’m under radar, so don’t notice me”. But he’s got those flashes of phenom and potential like he could rake, on an at bat to at bat basis. He got a great, pretty left handed stroke (if that’s worth anything). During 2018, we saw, provided if he hunkers down and locks in that he could hit lefties and for power. 2018 was the year he exorcised those demons and the knocks of his same handed ineptness, and not to mention he’s an above average right fielder. That’s what scares me locking into a promising yet unproven commodity. I have hunch that Kepler’s in for a breakout, quasi- bounceback campaign. I conjured up 7 imperative objectives, if Kepler wants to exponentially improve, and turns his contrast into a bargain. Don’t regress Don’t becomes injured (is that harsh?) Rake and Clobber Don’t flail to back-foot breaking ball Keep Smoking the Ball (Guy is getting better over career) Keep hitting lefties, Let development take its course (don’t rush it) - I literally had this stray though, but what if players get mad at their annual salary and if they’re not getting due compensation, play below their abilities. In this case, does Kepler play to the boundary of his abilities? Just on a side tangent, I stumbled on something interesting when looking through Kepler’s Numbers….. I recall times last year that Kepler had his extreme cold spells and fits at the plate, and I wanted to see how much of this was a byproduct of bad luck. wOBA is simply a synthesized linear statistic where singles/walks are considered as a the primary building block, and incrementally scales a hit as for it’s due result. Expected wOBA is as self-explanatory as it sounds, and just express the quality of contact and how it yields to on field results. Their are some flaws to this that might apply to Kepler (for being left handed), but if a player scorches a frozen rope and persists to label it INTO THE SHIFT, xwOBA would flag that as an unlucky hit, even though the entire left side of the infield is just begging for a bunt down the left field line. This is what hinders the stat, and I haven’t found a way to quantify how much this action has tainted Kepler’s stat value. But other than that, the stat has enlightened me with some tell-tale suspicions that Kepler slumps have accentuated because of the fact he is inducing himself into slumps. I added Trout’s statistic because quite honestly, the guy is the poster boy of hitting and is a golden standard benchmark stat. The reason why we don’t see the traditional pronounced periodical slumps in Trout, (IMO) is because Trout has found a way to amplify his stretches of success, and mask the monstrosities of his slumps and skids, which help maintain sparkling wOBA’s. (Or maybe he’s just too good to be bad????) This is an excellent inherent trait to have, because... It’s a great sign of a confidence booster It reinforces & enhances your overall stat... (Solid+Amazing=Really Good) This all might be baloney, but I find it interesting that Kepler’s more distinct patches of droughts tend to follow the Expected wOBA. The thing is, events like this are very common young hitters, (Heck, in real life too). Kepler rides the Hot-Hand like a wave, but when he hits his lows he virtually touches rock bottom. I just find it intriguing that this kinda-gives us a view to Kepler’s psyche during this plate appearances, to my understanding. Is it that Kepler’s gloom and doom approach at the plate is making that his Expected wOBA mimics and dampens his wOBA? That’s the real question…... I bet my theory will get invalidated, but I think this hints toward some better and consistent productions from Kepler in this upcoming season. Maybe just a little forward thought, the vote of confidence upstairs, in this new contract, encouragement from the staff, and some years under the belt will aid Max in carving-it-up in the Bigs. But if Kepler gets better (which I’m all inclined to believe), and if his performance does ride along an expected course, Kepler’s 8th and 7th year salaries are at complete bargain bottom prices. I also believe to some minuscule or macroscopic level (or really anything in between), that this instills some motivation into players. Disregarding why people rip players who pale in comparison near nothing to the owners, it’s a vote of confidence from the Front Office. It’s not like them handing contracts is routine kinda thing, and it issues sort of closure or something close after all summer people were calling for their collective heads. I do like these contracts, if that’s what you came to read this for, but still believe (no matter how much the PR department iterates it), where Buxton and Sano go, so do the Twins. I do hope success for all these player because they will take the fall if everything crashes and burns. Both Sano and Buxton in my mind aren’t ever going to have a year of this magnitude to prove doubters and/or the FO they were destined for stardom. To make the postseason I think the Journey runs right square through Buxton and Sano cascades, and to qualify to the playoffs I think it’s unequivocally contingent if Sano and Buxton rise to the occasion. This all surmises to probably befuddling you more prior to reading my tyrade/spiel but let’s simplify into simpler terms; if Kepler plays at or near a 4-5 WAR per year,(which is roughly fringe all-star level) this contract is a boon for the Twins. It's a bust if Kepler plays to a 1-3 WAR level (because the Twins have plenty of role players to insert). This also applies to some degree with Polanco.
  4. http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/25512874/minnesota-twins-outfielder-byron-buxton-admits-was-angry-not-getting-called-up This article is interesting in light of my recent Blog about Buxton and Sano and how long do we wait for them. Today I listened to Gleeman and the Geek and once again I hear that we are waiting on this potentially dynamic duo. But if so what is the thinking of the Front Office. Read this report and it is obvious that we did a lot of damage by not letting Buxton play in September. Why? What did the team gain by this? What was the message that they wanted to send? In the Athletic - 12//13 - comes the following quote - "But Baldelli hopes to go further than a phone call with Buxton and Sanó soon. He said he tentatively would like to visit each, including a trip to the Dominican Republic to Sanó’s home, before the end of the year, with the knowledge that plans can always change." Why wasn't there a meeting when Buxton was in Minnesota? The Athletic article said, "Buxton spoke out at a charity event in Minneapolis on Tuesday for the first time since the Twins didn’t promote him in September, a move that surprised players in the clubhouse and leaves Buxton just shy of three years of service time. Had he eclipsed three years of playing time during the past season, Buxton would have remained on target for free agency after 2021 as a 28-year-old. Instead, Buxton — who is arbitration-eligible this offseason after reaching Super Two status — won’t hit free agency until he’s 29, which potentially could cost him significant dollars. Buxton spoke to reporters from the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune. “Pissed? Yes,” Buxton said. “I ain’t sugar-coating nothing, simple as that.” “It’s business, they did what they did, I do what I do. At the end of the day, I’m still going to keep playing hard, still want to play in Minnesota, still want to play beside my teammates. That’s all that matters.” Did Buxton have to say that to get their attention. The day after was when Baldelli said he was going to visit Buxton and Sano in person.
  5. "The Brewers went into last winter as an 86-win team with a perfectly respectable young outfield and then went ahead and acquired a new and even better one. They signed Lorenzo Cain at a price that was only made possible by a plurality of teams opting to more or less sit the offseason out or pursue bespoke ownership-directed courses of idiocy; they dealt a bunch of promising prospects to a Marlins team once again selling off everything it could and received Christian Yelich in return. These were gambles—Cain’s game is built around speed, a tool that is not at all age-resistant, and Yelich was a good big leaguer who hadn’t developed into the sort of star that scouts had long believed he could be—and ones that the Brewers didn’t strictly need to take. Signing Cain blocked top centerfield prospect Lewis Brinson, so the team made Brinson the centerpiece of its Yelich offer. Yelich in turn squeezed out Domingo Santana, who hit 30 homers for the Brewers as a 24-year-old in 2017 and started this season in Triple-A. The Brewers made these moves because they identified a chance make the team not just better but a lot better, and they worked out." from The Brewers Have Played This All Perfectly by David Roth on Deadspin I enjoyed this article a lot but it also depressed me to realize that there's such a comparative shortfall of ideas and daring-to-do on this side of the river.
  6. Wow - no Abbott and Costello needed for this joke - just Falvey and Levine. The Twins are playing right now against the Rangers - okay, just 60 games left, open roster, we could bring up Vargas, Wade, Petit, Wiel and have a nice surprise players at first base. Or we could stay with Mauer or Austin, or give Sano or Grossman the 1B glove for a day. But not this advanced metrics group of geniuses - nope we outsmarted everyone. We swung a secret trade of Wilson for Gimenez to boost our future and not behind the plate - nope, we needed to get Gimenez bat in the line up and Astudillo was set for catcher, so Gimenez at 1B. Wow, I wonder how Chris stacks up among all 1B in the majors this year? How about last? Only the Twins were smart enough to redefine what a 1B player should look like and ignore the eight who might be considered for the position to come up with New Baseball. Forget Moneyball; we are into Washed Up Ball. Of course he is in position to take the mound after Belisle does his mound magic. Update - I was so upset I could not wait for Texas to score 18 runs, but now it is over and Belisle gave up a run without a hit, out, error, but one big HBP and then thrown out. This allowed him to secure his 8.01 ERA and then as I had anticipated our pitcher in waiting Gimenez came it - let's hear the collective Hooray! And one inning, six hits, and five runs later the game was over. Falvey, Levine - congratulations on maneuvering our roster so we could accomplish this great feat!
  7. I know it is popular to say Molitor is a poor manager. Today there is even a comparison with Lovullo. But maybe the problem rises to higher levels. Yes Lovullo lost his Ace and still succeeds. The Twins pitching lost its Ace and continued too. I here that the Twins are not running the bases like others. The problem is, you have to get on base. We have a collective 234 batting average and a 307 OBP. The old cliche is - you can't steal first. This team is not built for much of anything. So what has the Front Office done for Molitor - they brought in LaMarre, Cave, Morrison, and Motter. We lost our catcher and they brought in Bobby Wilson. Tell me how Mauer compares to Goldschmidt? Who are the leaders for the team. On the pitching side the analytical geniuses bring in Lynn and Odorizzi - its been a roller coaster, but I am not upset by those moves. On the other hand our aging bullpen additions do nothing for me. We have a 41 year old Rodney and 38 year old Belisle. Then we tell Molitor not to over use the one or two arms that are actually delivering. Reed and Duke - two more old vets are okay, but Reed failed as the eighth inning arm. The FO brought in more coaches, consultants, good old twins guys than I can count or remember, but we watched our two premier players for the future - Sano and Buxton fail and flounder. How many consultants can we assign to them. Fernando Romero looks like the real thing, but as he reached that point where some adjustments are needed we send him down - sorry calling all our consultants. We have had Adrianza and Petit at SS when we have Gordon in the minors. Gordon might be needing some more development, but can't he match these two or perhaps spell a struggling Dozier. Of course Molitor does not want a 224 lead-off hitter like Grossman, but we started with Dozier who is batting 218 and Mauer who is batting 254 and looks lost since his occurrence of concussion symptoms. So who else can bat first? We need the two Eddies to be in the top of the lineup, but do you move them to one and two and put powerless Mauer at number 3 with 191 batting Morrison and 218 batting Dozier in position to drive them in? Who does Molitor bring in from the pen - Hildenberger is doing great, Magill does not seem to have anyones confidence, Reed lost his position, Duke scares us, Rogers and Pressly have eras over 4 - terrible for a reliever. So FO guys, where is the help? How do you give your manager a roster he can actually work with?
  8. On Wednesday, November 30, 2016 the Twins announced the signing of free agent catcher Jason Castro to a 3-year, $24.5MM contract. It was a move that was widely attributed to the members of the Twins’ new front office comfort with advanced analytics. Jason Castro is widely regarded as very good defensive catcher due in large part to his ability to frame pitches and steal strikes for his pitchers. In 2016 Castro ranked third in all of baseball in Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs statistic, with +16.3. Kurt Suzuki, the Twins primary catcher in 2016, ranked 92nd at -6.8. Suzuki’s main backup, Juan Centeno, ranked 97th with -9.7. Castro is a roughly average offensive catcher. He put together a 88 wRC+ in 2016, which ranked 17th among catchers with at least 250 PAs, via Fangraphs. For reference, the league average wRC+ for catchers in 2016 was 87. But, he got a $24.5MM contract primarily because of his framing and the Twins are expecting him to make an impact on their pitching staff. So where might the Twins pitchers benefit from better framing? Let’s look at the Twins pitchers (that are still with the organization in 2017) that threw at least 50 innings in 2016, sorted by innings pitched: Using this list of pitchers, we can utilize Fangraphs' excellent heatmaps tool to explore each pitcher’s distribution of pitches around the strike zone. For example, here is Kyle Gibson’s 2016 pitch% heatmap, which displays the percentage of pitches thrown to each particular segment in and around the strike zone (shown from the pitcher’s perspective). The rulebook defined strike zone is outlined in black. There are not many surprises here, as we can see Gibson most often pitches down in the zone, and to his arm side. This is likely driven in large part to the high number of 2-seam sinking fastballs he throws (27.2% of total pitches in 2016, per PITCHf/x data available on Fangraphs). What this data also lets us do, is explore each pitcher’s propensity for pitching to the edges of the strike zone. Let’s assume much of the benefit of pitch framing occurs at the edges of the strike zone, where pitches are less definitively a ball or a strike to the eyes of the umpire. By focusing on the edges of the zone we can identify which Twins pitchers might benefit most from better framing. For this analysis, I focused explicitly on the strike zone segments just inside and just outside the rulebook strike zone, which are the areas between the gold lines in the graphic below: Using the pitch data in these sections, I calculated a metric for each Twins pitcher labeled "Total Edge%". These data points are summarized in the table below and show us the percentage of pitches thrown on the edge, or just off the edge of the strike zone, by each Twins pitcher in 2016: What we can see is the Twins starting pitchers seemed to pitch toward the edges of the strike zone more than the league average and more than their reliever teammates in 2016, with the exception of Brandon Kintzler. Ervin Santana is approximately at league average, which was 44.7%. Kyle Gibson is significantly above, at almost 49%. Jose Berrios, Phil Hughes, and Hector Santiago are all up around 47%. So, as a starting point, we can assert that Gibson, Berrios, Hughes, and Santiago are the primary candidates to benefit from better framing. But how do they fare in getting called strikes around the edges of the zone? Using the same heatmaps tool, we are also able to visualize each pitcher’s called strike percentage (cStrike%), in each segment of the strike zone. Here is Gibson’s for 2016: As we would expect, pitches located in the middle of the zone are nearly always called a strike, evidenced by the bright red boxes and rates at or near 100%. As before, our interest is just on and just off the edge of the strike zone, which I again outline in gold. Here, we see more variation, with the called strike percentage ranging from as high as 88% in the zone to Gibson’s arm side, to as low as 27% inside the zone up and to his glove side. We also see, pitches just off the strike zone are called strikes at a much lower percentage than pitches just in the zone, as you would expect. But, we need a reference point. How do the Twins compare against the rest of baseball? Using this data, I calculated two additional metrics, labelled as "In-Zone Edge cStrike%" and "Out-Zone Edge cStrike%", which delineate the called strike percentage on the edge and in the zone, and on the edge and out of the zone. Focusing on these strike zone segments, I calculated the called strike percentage for each Twins pitcher. Also included are the MLB averages for each metric. What we see above, is that 6 of the 10 Twins pitchers to throw 50 innings last season had a lower than league average called strike rate on pitches on the edge and inside the legal strike zone. Ryan Pressly and Jose Berrios appear to be the most impacted, with called strike rates significantly less than the league average of 64.9%, at 52.8% and 57.5% respectively. But what about just off the edge? When we focus on the segments just off the strike zone we see this same trend play out, but even more significantly. The visual above shows that 8 of the 10 Twins hurlers had lower than league average called strike rates on pitches just off the strike zone. This indicates that they were not getting many strikes stolen in their favor. In most cases for the Twins, the difference from league average is quite significant. Berrios, Michael Tonkin, Pressly, Taylor Rogers, and Santiago each have rates right around half the league average of 10.4%. The net result, when we add up the In-Zone and Out-Zone Edge cStrike% for Total Edge cStrike%, is that 7 of the 10 Twins pitchers studied had called strikes rates around the edges of the strike zone that were decidedly less than league average. Now, this probably isn’t all that surprising intuitively. We know the Twins as a whole did not pitch well last year (29th in ERA, 27th in FIP, per Fangraphs), and we know the Twins catchers did not rate well as pitch framers. Kurt Suzuki and Juan Centeno combined to catch nearly 86% of the Twins defensive innings last season. But for as bad as the team pitched, it is also clear the pitchers were not getting much help from their catchers. But how many pitches are we talking about here? If we assume a league average called strike rate on the edges of the strike zone (which was 36.1% in 2016) for the Twins, we can estimate an additional number of pitches that would be called strikes. This is what we find: By this analysis, it seems that Jose Berrios, Ryan Pressly, and Ervin Santana would benefit the most from better pitch framing, with each gaining roughly 20 additional called strikes over the course of the season. But how much does a pitch being called a ball, instead of a strike, actually matter? Let’s look at the major league batting average by count in a plate appearance. The data in the table below is from a 2014 Grantland article written by Joe Lemire, and calculates the batting average for plate appearances ending on specific counts. For example, the batting average on plate appearances ending on the 0-1 pitch is .321. The data fluctuates slightly year to year, but in any given season, you’ll find a table that generally looks like this: By this measure, the value of a strike, depending on the count is quite significant. In a 1-1 count, for example, if the next pitch is called a strike, making the count 1-2, the batter’s expected batting average drops from .319 to .164. Similarly, if the pitch is a ball, making the count 2-1, the batter’s expected average increases to .327. That’s a .163 swing in expected batting average. Others have approached this differently by trying to calculate the expected outcomes by the result of the at bat that reaches each count. So, for example, what is the expected outcome for all plate appearances that reached an 0-1 count, regardless of whether it was the 0-1 pitch that the outcome of the plate appearance was created? Different approaches aside, we find a similar result according to a revisit of the idea by Matt Hartzell published on RO Baseball in 2016: While the differences here are not quite as steep as before, we still see the swings matter. Batting average after a 1-2 count is .178, where after a 2-1 count it is .247. That’s still a .069 swing in batting average. We also have added on-base percentage, and see the trend holds. OBP after a 2-1 count in 2016 was .383, versus just .229 after a 1-2 count. So, all of this helps us show the Twins have a pitch framing problem and pitch framing matters because getting more pitches called strikes leads to less runners on base. But can Jason Castro fix it? To try to find out, let’s look at the Houston Astros, Castro’s former employer. Using the same methodology as with the Twins pitchers, I again calculated the cStrike% on the edges of the strike zone for the all Astros pitchers that threw more than 50 IP in 2016. What we find is pretty telling: Of the 12 Astros to throw more than 50 IP, only one, Michael Feliz, had a lower than league average called strike rate around the edge of the strike zone. But even he was roughly league average (36.06% compared to league average of 36.11%). The rest of the pitchers studied were above league average, and in most cases, quite comfortably so. Six of them are clustered close together right around 41.0%. Now, to be fair, not all of this is directly attributable to Castro. These are different, and arguably, better pitchers. And Castro didn’t catch every pitch thrown (he caught 61.9% of the Astros defensive innings in 2016). But the difference is stark and by this rough measure, it seems Jason Castro will make a positive impact for the Twins pitchers. To the Twins credit, they recognized they had a weakness, and they used the free agent market to acquire a player they hope can help address it.
  9. For the Twins to make a serious run at a division title in 2016 with the roster they had leaving Ft. Myers, a whole lot had to break right. Byron Buxton needed to take a big step forward at the plate, Joe Mauer needed to return to his old form, Phil Hughes needed to make 2016 look more like 2014 than 2015, Byung-Ho Park needed to hit the ground running, Glen Perkins needed to come back healthy, and about a half-dozen other things had to fall into place. Very little of it was outlandish in and of itself, but like predicting 10 flips of a coin, the sheer number of correct outcomes needed was what made the task so daunting. Some of them happened: Mauer had as good an April as he has since 2010 and while Park was uneven in his first 10 games, he then hit .326/.375/.767 with eight of his 14 hits going for extra bases in the next 13. But far too few of the others did. Buxton looks lost, Perkins is still out injured, Hughes has been inconsistent at best, Eddie Rosario can’t stop swinging, and the list goes on. At a 10,000 ft. level, that’s how any team ends up 12 games under .500 fewer than 30 games into the season: The list of things that are going poorly is much, much longer than the list of things that are going well. Few who have watched this team so far would disagree with owner Jim Pohlad’s characterization of the team to the Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins as a “total system failure.” The offense sits in the bottom third of the league, eight percent below league average; their defense has provided negative value. Their starters, expected to sit around league average, haven’t been close to that modest mark, and the bullpen has caved in, in the absence of Perkins. There are individual successes, but it’s hard to look at a unit on the field and say that they’re performing at or above expectations. What will raise more than a few eyebrows is that Pohlad then gave both general manager Terry Ryan and manager Paul Molitor an unequivocal vote of confidence and while it’s not always immediately clear, it didn’t seem to be the dreaded vote of confidence either. If there was any hope that the disastrous start to the season would result in a change in leadership, it’s gone for at least the rest of the season. To be frank, firing a GM midseason would be fairly out of step with how the Twins tend to conduct business, and that’s before taking into account Ryan’s years of service to the organization. One bad month, even one bad half season isn’t going to earn Ryan a midseason public dismissal. Short of a catastrophic error -- a rules violation during the draft/signing process resulting in a huge fine, releasing Buxton outright without cause, burning down Target Field -- it’s hard to imagine what Ryan would have to do to have his season end before the team’s did. If the goal is to keep the 2016 postseason in play, removing Ryan would do little good. There are no impact free agents available, no one in the draft is going to join the team and add seven wins from June 10 until the end of the year, major in-season trades are far more uncommon now than they used to be, and it’s hard to envision any other move designed to save 2016 that wouldn’t end up weakening the team substantially in the future. Yes, promoting and demoting players to their right levels is exceedingly important for the Twins in both the short- and long-term, but a new GM is actually less likely to make those calls correctly than Ryan is, simply because of his familiarity with the players up and down the system. Paradoxically, if the Twins were playing a little better, perhaps Ryan’s job would be more vulnerable because the marginal utility of changing GMs would be higher. Bringing in someone who had shown an aptitude for working the trade deadline in July and the waiver wire in August would be appealing since the AL looks like it will be decided by a razor-thin margin. (This presupposes such a person is freely available at this point in the season, but that’s another column entirely.) Out of sheer proximity to the problem, the manager ought to be able to make the types of changes in-season that a GM can’t. But as the team has shown over the last few weeks, new blood isn’t enough to spark the team. Not counting pitchers, the team has had 15 players take the field with Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, and Rosario about the only players who haven’t split a meaningful amount time at their respective positions, so it’s not as if the opening day lineup has been run out for 28 consecutive games and this is the result. Changes are being made, they’re just producing the same outcomes. Moving on from Molitor would certainly shake things up, and unlike Ryan, there are logical candidates available to take over. Gene Glynn, Mike Quade, and Doug Mientkiewicz are all within the organization and were either considered for the managerial vacancy left by Ron Gardenhire or have MLB managerial experience. So whereas Ryan is virtually locked in until the end of the season, Molitor could theoretically be moved. The downside is that it means burning a bridge with a legendary hitter who the players -- at least publically -- seem to like and to whom they respond. There’s also no guarantee it will work. Glynn and Mientkiewicz have good minor league track records to buoy their candidacy, but there’s a huge difference between motivating a 19-year-old kid whose dreams are still ahead of him to work hard and getting the same response out of veterans like Eduardo Nunez or Kurt Suzuki. Quade did have some time working with the Cubs during their rebuilding phase, but they finished 20 games under .500 during his only full season at the helm, which is hardly a sterling reference. Molitor’s managerial ability is far from a known quantity. Last year’s team overperformed in his first full season by nearly as much as this year’s team is underperforming. He hasn’t shown an unhelpful fetishization of one particular type of player, nor has he proven incapable of handling a bullpen. The obvious warts aren’t there, but that doesn’t make him good, it just makes him not-bad-in-readily-apparent-ways. It may become clear what his deficiencies are as the season progresses, but losing him in service of a vague effort to spur a team that may well have put themselves in too deep a hole to recover from doesn’t seem like a good use of resources. Because, while he may prove himself to be a poor fit for a team that figures to be young and volatile for the next few years, it’s equally possible that he’ll prove to be a tremendous fit even if the team finishes 71-91. Plus, statistically speaking, firing a manager midseason doesn’t make your team appreciably better in the vast majority of cases. It’s a show of force, but if it doesn’t translate to more wins on the field, it can hardly be considered worth doing. Given that he’ll have just one more year on his contract after the die is cast on this season, it seems more than likely that the Twins will give Molitor the full value of his contract, then evaluate his performance from there. Assuming this year finishes in the same vein as it has started -- if not the exact same path -- that will put quite a bit of pressure on Molitor going into the 2017 season, as he’ll have one impressive season under his belt and one fairly poor one. While there is good reason to keep both Ryan and Molitor where they are for the rest of 2016 season, the takeaway here isn’t that Pohlad was right and that Ryan and Molitor are unquestionably the right people for their jobs. Ultimately, Ryan is the architect of a team that has been dire since 2011 (with a brief respite last year) and Molitor is the final authority on game-to-game matters for a team on pace to finish 47-115, the worst mark in franchise history and the Twins’ first 100+ loss team since 1982. And while 115 losses would be embarrassing even given how the season started, that 1982 mark is very much in play. The takeaway here is that, as with virtually everything in baseball, there is a rhythm and a seasonality to leadership changes, and that jumping out of that order doesn’t necessarily produce better outcomes. If the ownership group believes there is even a 1% chance they’ll want to move on from Ryan come the offseason, start making those determinations now. Do the necessary due diligence and be ready to make a call at the right moment. Taking the time to do the requisite research, let Ryan know what to expect, and to position either his return or his departure to the public will go a long way to making sure the 2017 Twins aren’t fighting these same battles. Next week, I’ll take a deep dive into Ryan’s time with the Twins. The highs, lows, and how he stacks up against some of the league’s top architects right now.
  10. He's back. Torii Hunter is back, and in the 7 hours of his official presence in a Twins line-up again there are two clear camps in response to his return. In the blue corner, weighing in at 140 characters, 140,000 grey hairs in the last four seasons and 140 million liters of digital ink are the analytically minded, podcast savvy, SABR-metrical, writers, critics and yes...fans who wonder what the heck the Pohlad's were thinking. "This is not the Torii Hunter we fell in love with," they remind readers, listeners, viewers and random passers-by. http://twinsphotog.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/abc_0074.jpg?w=224&h=176&crop=1He is not the defensive wunderkind we saw steal homers from Barry Bonds, he's not even the workman-like defender we saw handle Eduardo Escobar pop outs in Anaheim and Detroit. He has struggled lately, and one thing the Twins outfield does not want for is corner outfielders who struggle defensively (see: Arcia, Oswaldo; Willingham, Josh; Nunez, Eduardo Freaking) The Torii we came to know and love was prone to gaps in his approach at the plate, always good but never quite great. While that also changed in the years he was away, 39 year-old Torii may not be able to maintain that production. And as younger talents vie for playing time, the curious sight of an aging corner outfielder with declining production and defensive value getting constant playing time and clinging to his no-trade clause becomes all the more questionable. This is not the mega-watt smiling, do-no-wrong, clubhouse hero either. One afternoon worth of press coverage seemed to confirm that. Claiming that "whoever believes in that SABR-metric stuff never played the game" (despite the successful A's GM/former first round draft pick/former Minnesota Twin Billy Beane being a leader in the field) did not allay the fears of the analytically minded writers in the room and at home. Hunter then proceeded to call Mike Bernadino of the Pioneer Press, "a prick" four times, because Bernadino asked about how his opposition to gay marriage may have affected his free agency and may yet affect his leadership. Only Kris Humphries had a shorter honeymoon. So, says the camp in the blue corner, "this is not the Torii Hunter we fell in love with." Defensively, offensively, socially: it's different now. But there is another side to this. In the red corner, weighing in at $221 million dollars in revenue, 73,000 household wide television audience, and four straight 90 loss seasons is the Twins front office who wonder "what the heck's the problem?" Loathe as we writers may be to admit it, the front office can see and know these issues. They may not believe in defensive metrics, but they know a 39-year-old outfielder is going to be less effective than the 32-year-old they last had in uniform. They may not project many stat-lines, but they saw enough of Jim Thome (not to mention Tony Batista, Shannon Stewart, and Dave Winfield) to know that a 39-year-old hitter isn't a 32-year-old hitter. And while Hunter's not keen to talk about his beliefs, the ownership isn't exactly shy about theirs (leading the list of contributors to the anti-gay marriage amendment in 2012). http://twinsphotog.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/hlf070426217.jpg?w=211&h=265&crop=1 Heck, they'd probably take mummified Torii Hunter The Twins brass knows that this is not the old Torii Hunter, and they do not care, they want this Torii Hunter. Bear in mind, the Twins are not just in the business of fielding a winning baseball team, they're in the business of making money. To be sure, the best teams make the most money, but even the worst teams can make some. If you're a business and you know your most loyal customers will come back again and again even when they are dumbstruck and aghast at your decision making, you know that you can make "dumb" and "ghastly" decisions again and again. Their opinion doesn't matter. They'll keep coming--even if only to complain. What matters is the undecided, the ambivalent, the apathetic customers, ones that you may have lost in the lean years and can bring back (even briefly now). Last year the biggest crowd at Target Field (36,952 to watch the Yankees on July 4th) wouldn't have been in the top 8 home crowds of the 2013 season--when the team was even worse. Sure a great team would solve that problem, but we aren't going to get a great team over night, so let's appreciate what we can have: a beloved local legend on a farewell tour (you saw the crowds for Jeter/Rivera? Torii might only get a tenth of that...but that's a lot better than the Twins have drawn recently). And even if you don't see this as a cold, callous and calculated business decision, you can appreciate it as a comfortable move at a time of great uncertainty. There's a new manager, a bevy of new talent in the wings, the team is in flux and adding one familiar face, beloved by the front office, admired by the layman fan base, is a way to ease the transition from one regime to the next. You may not believe the "clubhouse leadership" lines, you may not buy the "mentorship" lines, but what you buy and what you don't is moot now. The Twins bought Torii Hunter 2014, not 2011 or 2007, and they wanted to do that. If it fails, it fails, but if it excites a few absentee fans, if it eases the transition and if it supports the next generation of outfielders, then it's worth it. Call it Twins Teri-Torii, call him Torii-Wan Kenobi, but above all else, call it what it is. A decision that was made (past tense), as fiercely as we may fight about it, argue about it and debate it, the results won't be known until next spring and summer. (Even then since the arguments are being made in different directions, there not be a winner. Maybe Tori'll be terrible and bring in fans/make the clubhouse brighter, or maybe he'll be great on the field and as insignificant as Jason Bartlett in the annals of Twins reunions gone by. We can all be right, we can all be wrong!)
  11. Minnesota Twins’ GM Terry Ryan is putting his neck out, again, signing Torii Hunter to a $10.5 million, one-year deal. Frankly, this Twins reunion **** is getting old – literally. Hunter will be 39 years old next year, is the worst defensive right fielder in the game, and will be severely overpaid. He should be making low-end DH money, yet he’s being paid ten times more than any outfielder the Twins have, despite being worse than any outfielder the Twins have (I think Arcia will hit much better than Hunter in 2015). Surprising, right? Not if you're a Twins fan. This blog was originally published at Go Gonzo Journal. As a fan that said “good riddance” to Torii when he refused to play for a contender in Minnesota to make more money and play for a contender in California, I can honestly say that this is the last straw. I didn't become a season ticket holder to watch 40-year-old men who can't play outfield play outfield, and I didn't stick with the Twins with hopes of a Torii Hunter reunion. I never wanted him back and still don’t. Torii's a self-righteous, selfish prick, despite him calling Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press the same for asking tough questions at today's press conference about whether his conservative and out-dated stance on gay marriage effected his free agent value. And I don't buy all that "clubhouse leader" bull****. Do you think a single team offered Torii more money than the Twins? If you do, you're out of your mind. You'd think at least one of those great teams he was on would have won a championship with him leading in the clubhouse, right? Wrong. But AJ Pierzynski did. You want to lead my team? Do it on the field. Torii hasn't been doing that lately. Kirby Puckett did. That was your hero. Remember, Torii? Yet you bolted when Twins fans needed you most. Kirby didn't do that. He played for some of the worst teams in history, and did it with a smile on his face. He made you what you were. Why do the Twins need a clubhouse leader, anyway? The new manager, Paul Molitor, should set the tone in the clubhouse, yet he was pushing for a reunion with Torii. Is he not confident in his ability to do the job? Maybe we should have hired someone else. Perhaps Rusty Kuntz or Ozzie Guillen would have been better. Rusty could have provided outfield instruction at a fraction of $10.5 million Torii will be paid. Ozzie would have single-handedly rebuilt the winning attitude that’s been lacking in the Twins’ clubhouse. Did we replace nearly the entire coaching staff for nothing? The answer is a resounding “YES.” Ron Gardenhire wasn't the problem, although I’ve wanted him gone for years. Terry Ryan and the entire front office is the problem. There will be no championships won, lost, or even dreamt of until the entire front office is fired. When the front office pays no attention to the opinion of educated fans who resoundingly said “NO” to a Torii Hunter reunion, the front office is no longer doing its job. Its job, if you don’t know, is to keep fans happy and coming back to the ballpark. Years ago I thought it was all Bill Smith’s fault, but I realize now that the Twins organization is no better than our own government – a fraternity of rich, entitled pricks that never listen to their constituency and rarely lose their jobs unless ownership changes hands. What this team needs is a new owner, and that owner should be the fans. Hell, I think most of us have a better handle on how to run this team than those in office. I could say the same about this country. With new technology comes new ways to determine your consumers’ wants and needs. Ignoring those wants and needs is not only stupid, but costly. The media have employed this technology to better determine what fans want, yet no one seems to be listening. It’s as simple as reading blogs, forums, and comments, yet the Twins organization seems to devalue these technologies, despite them being a direct reflection of their consumers – the people who pay their salaries. I've worked in many businesses, and marketing is all the same. Knowledge is power, and Terry Ryan and the Twins have neither, because they willingly ignore the people whom they are employed to entertain. Some say this is a gimmick to sell tickets, and to them I say, “Sure, if you're an idiot who enjoys bad baseball.” Frankly, I'm not too thrilled with Twins fans and never have been. They’re too quiet, too reserved, and too indifferent. They just don't care enough. That may sound stupid, but fans should be proud of their home team – not satisfied that they stuck around as long as they did. And they certainly shouldn't welcome back a former star who left for the big money and big lights when he was needed most. But we don't have to take it. If you truly care about the future of baseball in Minnesota, you won't attend a single game at Target Field next season. I know I won't – not until Hunter is traded at least. ---- Anthony Varriano is editor of Go Gonzo Journal, a blog presenting the the rants of fans and outlaw journalists.
  12. Maddon vs. Gardy: Comparing Performance of Two Managers With the news of Joe Maddon’s opt-out, Twins fans everywhere are clamoring for the front office to make him a serious offer. Maddon has earned a reputation as one of the greatest minds in the game, a savvy and sabermetrically-aware manager capable of getting a lot of production out of his players. Just how much of an improvement would Maddon be over Gardy? It is widely thought that he will command a salary near Mike Scioscia’s $5 million. This would be a big step up from the $2 million Gardy will be earning for the last year of his contract, but certainly not a bank-breaker by MLB standards. Since 2006, both Gardy and Maddon have been at the helm of several playoff teams with little postseason success. Factor in Gardy’s 2002-2005 seasons, and you generally have more of the same. Both managers have also received praise from baseball writers. Maddon was named American League Manager of the Year in both 2011 and 2008. Gardy won the award in 2010 and finished runner-up in 2006, 2008, and 2009. Both men are generally seen as “player’s managers” who run loose and comfortable clubhouses. A major difference between Gardy and Maddon is their usage of sabermetrics and advanced stats. Gardy has publicly mocked them, while Maddon has embraced them. For instance, Maddon revolutionized defensive shifting. Gardy, meanwhile, has been consistently hesitant to platoon players, demonstrating a non-acknowledgement of numbers. Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify managerial performance. From a fan’s perspective, we can only judge based on what we see on the field and in the papers. Here, I’ve attempted to quantify (albeit crudely) the managerial performance of Gardy and Maddon. I’ve used a few simple metrics to clump managerial performance into two broad categories: 1. Making the most out of every run, as evidenced by team performance in 1-run games and relative to Pythagorean record. This is largely related to in-game managerial decisions and luck. Team confidence also factors into this; a team that is confident in their ability to win should, in theory, win more close games. Presumably, a manager can affect this. 2. Making the most out of cheap players, as evidenced by money spent per win. This reflects several things – lineup decisions, clubhouse rapport, defensive positioning, and front-office performance. The extent to which a manager affects this is unknown and undoubtedly varies from team to team. Making the Most Out of Every Run Here are comparisons of Gardy (red) vs. Maddon (blue) in Pythagorean difference (Pythagorean wins – Actual wins) and 1-run games from 2006-2014: Over the course of 2006-2014, Gardy has a Pythagorean record of +1 overall, while Maddon’s is -4. In that span, their 1-run records are virtually identical: Gardy is 221-211 (.512), while Maddon is 215-202 (.516). What do these numbers mean? Basically, they say two things. First of all, both managers have fielded teams that are, on average, slightly better in close games than their opponents. In that sense, both Gardy and Maddon seem to be above-average managers. However, neither manager is capable of making extraordinary in-game decisions that lead to far more wins than expected based on runs. If Maddon is substantially better than Gardy, it doesn’t show up in these metrics. Making the Most Out of Cheap Players While neither Gardy nor Maddon has had the opportunity to work with gargantuan payrolls, there is a clear difference here: from 2006-2014, the Twins won 709 games for a total payroll of $723.05 million ($1.02 million per win), while the Rays won 754 games for $479.65 million ($0.64 million per win). This is a striking difference. Furthermore, it is completely in-line with Maddon’s reputation as someone who can do a lot with a low payroll. But a huge question remains – just how much does a manager actually affect wins per dollars spent? Does a great manager make a difference? Or is this more closely linked to front office decisions? In an effort to examine this, I compared 2006-2014 year-by-year money spent per win of four teams: 1. Twins (red) 2. Rays (blue) 3. Mets (orange; a team with changing managers and a front office with a poor reputation) 4. A’s (green; a team with changing managers and a front office with a great reputation) Here are the results: What’s interesting here is that the A’s have been almost as efficient with their money per win as the Rays, despite a revolving door of managers. And this doesn’t even include Billy Beane’s first 8 years as the A’s GM, when he originally championed the “Moneyball” philosophy. The Twins were part of the “efficient” group until 2010-2011. Two things happened around this time: 1) Joe Mauer started earning a lot more money, and 2) Bill Smith’s craptastic decisions reached a peak, trading Wilson Ramos for the overpriced Matt Capps and trading the underpriced J.J. Hardy for nobody noteworthy. Since then, the Twins have been struggling to spend money efficiently, especially with Mauer’s clunker contract still looming large. The Mets have been relatively inefficient spenders from 2006-2014, although they have heading in the right direction more recently. Like the Twins, they fired a GM during this time - Omar Minaya in 2010. How much is Gardy to blame for the Twins inefficiency over the last four years, and how much should Maddon be credited with the Rays efficiency? These figures suggest that front office changes are far more meaningful in this regard – the consistently clever A’s and Rays front offices have kept their teams efficient despite drastically different managerial histories. Meanwhile, the Twins and Mets efficiency has fluctuated more with front office changes than managerial changes. Take-Home Points Overall, Maddon hasn’t really outperformed Gardy in any in-game metrics that could confer an advantage per run scored. And although Maddon probably had some impact on the Rays’ efficiency per dollar spent, front offices appear to be far more influential than managers. Bottom line: it would be wicked cool to welcome Joe Maddon as the Twins’ next manger, and he’d certainly sell more tickets. But in comparison to the front office, his impact would be relatively small.
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