TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.

Read more about them.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 169: Paul Molitor

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: November 2, 2014 - 9:40 PM

Aaron and John start the podcast at New Bohemia talking about the the weird way that the news broke that Paul Molitor will be the next Twins manager and what it might mean, then run into a guy with a World Series ring, then find out he used to play with Molitor, then talk to the guy, then talk more about Molitor, and then argue about LaTroy Hawkins and Matt Capps for twenty minutes. So, basically, pretty much just like every other episode. You can listen by downloading us from iTunesStitcher or find it at GleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gleemangeek/Ep_169_Paul_Molitor.mp3

Also over a Twins Daily, you'll find the offseason kicking into high gear:

- Nick Nelson lists candidates for the Twins new pitching coach

- The community reacted to the news that Molitor would be named manager. 

- SD Buhr interviewed two of the Twins prospects at the Arizona Fall League.

Gleeman and the Geek, Ep 168: Dreaming of Joe Maddon

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: October 26, 2014 - 8:31 PM

Aaron and John talk about the Twins' three managerial finalists, the possibility of Joe Maddon entering the mix late, giving Aaron's money to listeners at Harrys.com, declining Jared Burton's option, Paul Molitor's path to replacing Ron Gardenhire, moving to a deluxe apartment in the sky, selling Kris Johnson to Japan, knowing your kids, Rick Anderson's future, the value of a great GM, and how NOT to parent at Liquor Lyle's. You can listen by downloading us from iTunesStitcher or find it atGleemanAndTheGeek.com. Or just click the Play button below.

Also at Twins Daily, you'll find more about whether Joe Maddon could join the Twins, a breakdow of the whole organization at the hot corner and a discussion of the case AGAINST all the managerial candidates.

But there's more. You can get an in depth breakdown of the Vikings win yesterday at Vikings Journal. And  if you're getting geeked up about the Wild's hot start, how about cheering a little at the games? Finally, if you're tired of this online, thing, you can also join us tonight (Monday) at Poor Richard's where we'll buy you a beer. 

http://traffic.libsyn.com/gleemangeek/Episode_168_Dreaming_of_Joe_Maddon.mp3

TwinsCentric: Twins won't tip their pitches when it comes to research

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: October 23, 2014 - 11:20 PM

The Minnesota Twins’ Manager of Baseball Research, Jack Goin, does not like to tip his pitches.

Most statistically-inclined minds would like to hear that the team is working on finding the next market inefficiency to exploit or running regression models on supercomputers in efforts to find an in-game strategy that would help gain a win or two. Others might just assume they are just sorting the RBI leaderboard at Fangraphs.com. Either way, Goin isn’t going to tell me what they are working on.

“I’m not overly concerned that people see us as middle-of-the-pack, below-the-pack or any of that stuff. Obviously, I’m working on where I want to get to as a department but I’m not concerned what the outside perception is, so to speak.”

By most outside estimates, the Twins likely fall in the middle of the pack. Unlike the Houston Astros who went all-in on analytics from the top down in their ballclub, the Twins seemingly view that as one piece of the equation, one ingredient in the recipe. And, unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Astros, who receive splashy tell-all write-ups from Grantland and Bloomberg touting their organization’s analytical deployment, Goin likes to keep his activities and goals close to the vest.

This past August Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh revealed that the Pirates send 26-year-old Mike Fitzgerald on road trips with the team to provide information when the team is away from PNC Park. Lindbergh notes that Fitzgerald, whose title is Qualitative Analyst, is what most people would consider a friggin genius. A math graduate from MIT, Fitzgerald tags along with the Pirates to provide “direct, in-season information” to the coaching staff.

“Fitzgerald, meanwhile, makes most road trips: If the Pirates are playing, he’s almost always at the park,” Lindbergh writes. “I surveyed several analysts from other front offices, and none of them knew — or would admit to knowing — of another employee with Fitzgerald’s statistical expertise who travels close to full-time with a team.”

As a footnote to his statement, Lindbergh mentions that one of the reasons he may have been unable to find another team to admit they have the same practice is because, like the Twins, most research departments are mum on their methods. Baseball analysts, Lindbergh notes, are the secretive sort.

Goin, however, admitted that the Twins have a similar practice in place, sending one of the members of the analytics department on about sixty percent of the road trips. Like the Pirates, the Twins would be able to feed data to the coaching staff on request. Having someone from the research department traveling with the team allows him to provide insight on pitching matchups, how to pitch opposing players and, what has become increasingly more common, defensive shifts.

In 2013, the Twins fielders shifted -- aligning three infielders on one side of second base -- just 66 times (27th). This year, that number dramatically increased to over 500 times (16th).

“Joe Vavra kind of chipped away at that in 2013, starting to get some shifts involved and then Gardy was starting to go along with it then and we took it to another level for us this year,” explains Goin. “A lot of that was Molitor, he did a lot of video work.”

“I’m not sure how much Gardy liked the shift but as it started to pay off he liked it a little bit more", said general manager Terry Ryan. “We never shifted too much the last couple of years, but neither did anybody for that matter. It was always the David Ortizes, the guys you normally expect. Now all of a sudden you see shifts on three players in every lineup.”

While Goin and his team would provide data, in addition to the video work supplied by the team’s director of Major League video, Sean Harlin, the coaching staff would be responsible for deciding the game plan.

“Paul and Gardy would have a meeting, talk about who they were going to shift and how they were going to shift,” Goin said. “Then after that meeting they would have an infielders or defenders meeting with Gardy and Molitor and whoever else and then they’d talk about it: Here are the charts, how should we shift him? Step-pull, straight-away, two-steps pull or whatever it is.”

It is hard to say if the emphasis on shifting was beneficial to the team’s record in 2014. According to the shift data, the Twins finished in the middle of the pack for hits saved. At the same time, the infield’s overall defensive efficiency took a step back in 2014. In 2013, the Twins’ opponents had a batting average on grounders in play of .235. This year that increased to .258. It is possible that it is, in part, due to that the pitching staff being hit hard or that the team did not position their players in the right spot enough. Consider this, on ground balls in the middle of the diamond, opponents hit .500, the highest in all of baseball.

What Goin and his team provides to the coaching staff evolved based on preferences.

“Sometimes it starts out with a question from him and then you create some type of report from what that initial conversation was,” Goin said. “‘Oh, that’s great but can we add this or move this?’ And you add a piece that you didn’t think of at the initial conversation. They get a standard package and then different coaches get a few one-off packages that they like on their own. Brunansky and Gardy got a couple and Molitor got a couple. Rick Anderson got hitters, Bruno got pitchers and some of the other coaches got reports too. Gardy got everything.”

The Twins’ baseball research department, which started out as a one-man show several years ago, has expanded as the acceptance has increased. In addition to adding coordinator Andrew Ettel, they recently posted for a developer of baseball systems to “develop, deliver, and maintain data driven solutions for analytics and architecture of player information and evaluation systems.” This is more or less a position that has become commonplace within front offices to help create database systems for both readily available statistics like Pitch F/X and proprietary projections.

Perhaps most important for the new hire might be working with MLBAM’s new field-tracking system that was installed in a handful of ballparks, including Target Field, this past year. Unlike the Pitch F/X system which was released to the public and allowed hobbyists like Josh Kalk to tinker with the data that ultimately led to his hiring by the Tampa Bay Rays, the new system will be provided to only the teams. One of the reasons this will not be made available for the general public is because each game’s data will be terabytes. MLB will purportedly release the data to all teams prior to the 2015 season, at which point, it will be a race to see which organization can leverage the information to their advantage.

There is also the perception that the Twins decision-makers are not interested in or resistant to this kind of information. Both Ryan and Goin say that is not true, but that there is some education required.

“I got that in here and I look at it,” said Ryan, gesturing to his computer when asked about his familiarity with Pitch F/X, “but for me to decipher it I have to go to him.”

At the basic level, the Twins research department’s role appears to be the storefront of a butcher shop. Ryan does not need to know how the sausage is made, but he has trust in Goin and his staff that he is not receiving tainted meat.

“There are things that I need to be educated about that kind of catch my eye, and I've got to make sure I know what the norm is, for sure, and I go to Jack,” Ryan said of the role the research team.
 

****

It’s a piece.

That’s the common phrase that the pair offered as a response to a lot of inquiries about the use of stats and analytics when it came to decisions in the front office. In the end, the team admits that it is not a guiding light for the direction of the organization. For the stats community and analytics proponents, that may be an unsatisfying answer. For others, that might strike a good balance.


 

***For more from Terry Ryan and the Twins be sure to pre-order the Twins Daily Offseason Handbook or download the FREE SAMPLE***

TwinsCentric: Powering up the bullpen

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: October 21, 2014 - 10:35 PM

There are only so many worthwhile takeaways to be gleaned from an examination of the Kansas City Royals' incredible postseason run up to this point. It's just been one of those miraculous stretches of baseball where everything has kept on clicking. (At least until Game 1 of the World Series.)

It is possible that the impact of Kansas City's speed, fundamentals, and maybe even defense, can be overstated.

The impact of a lights-out bullpen, however, cannot.

During the regular season, the Royals went 64-9 when ahead after the sixth inning, and 65-4 when ahead after the seventh. This relief corps that reliably protected leads during the summer has stepped it up here in October.

When Kansas City leads after five, or gains a lead at any point thereafter, the win has been automatic.

This was an overlooked calling card in the Twins' wonder years. During Minnesota's division championship seasons of 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010, they ranked 4th, 5th, 5th, 1st, 4th and 4th among AL teams in bullpen ERA.

This year, they ranked 10th.

So when you look at areas that need to improve, this is a pretty blatant one. A truly great bullpen can be a key difference-maker; many of those division-winning clubs lacked elite lineups or rotations but won games because they consistently could finish the job.

Fortunately, the current Twins already have that all-important piece: a shutdown closer. Like Eddie Guardado and Joe Nathan before him, Glen Perkins is an All-Star, ranking among the game's best at slamming the door.

Concerns over Perkins' sore forearm and shaky September were quelled after an MRI revealed no UCL damage.

But what of the arms leading up to Perkins? Where are those dominant arms that bridge the gap, like Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have done for the Royals?

Casey Fien was far less dominant this year than in 2013, as his strikeouts declined and more hits fell in. Jared Burton struggled too often, and seems unlikely to have his option activated. When minor-leaguers like Michael Tonkin, A.J. Achter and Lester Oliveros got their chances, they delivered mixed results.

If the Twins want to be proactive in addressing the bullpen, they might want to seek alternatives to their present options. That could mean looking to free agency, where some intriguing names are covered in the Offseason Handbook.

But it also might mean getting creative and trying out some different things. One such idea is shifting Mike Pelfrey into a relief role, where I believe he could transform from a liability to an asset.

And here's another idea I'm starting to like: Alex Meyer in the bullpen to start the season.

He already has a full year at Triple-A under his belt and he'll turn 25 in January. He needs to be in the majors. But the Twins seem to have lingering doubts about his ability to pitch deep into games, and that's warranted. He completed six innings just once in his last seven starts at Rochester.

There might not be room for him in the rotation from the outset, if the Twins sign a pitcher or want to give Tommy Milone a look.

So why not let Meyer start out in a relief role, where he can gain confidence pitching in short stints while blowing big-league hitters away with his elite stuff?

The Twins brought Francisco Liriano along in this manner in 2006. He dominated pitching a couple innings at a time as a potent weapon out of the bullpen during the first six weeks, and was already rolling by the time he hit the rotation in mid-May.

Since Meyer only pitched 130 innings last year and ended on an injury scare, the Twins will want to manage his workload. Serving as a reliever those first few weeks or months will allow him to pitch deeper into the season without vastly exceeding his inning total from 2014.

Ideally, he'll pitch well in this role, refine his control, and be ready to stretch out and step in as a starter when help is inevitably needed. Or else the Twins could let him work as a reliever the entire season. The Cardinals did so with Adam Wainwright his rookie year, and he turned out alright.

Whichever route they choose to go, Minnesota must find a way to harness Meyer's overpowering arm. It makes little sense to send him back to the minors.

~~~

Interested in discovering more ideas for improving the club for 2015? The Twins Daily Offseason Handbook is now available for pre-order, and for a limited time you can lock up your copy for just $3.99. If you're a Twins fan, give it a try. I promise you'll enjoy.

TwinsCentric: Contemplating the Royals

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: October 16, 2014 - 7:02 AM

The Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series. The AL Central team that was seemingly in a perennial rebuild suddenly has put itself in a great position. They won the 1985 World Series and this was the first time they were back in the playoffs. They have now gone 8-0 this postseason and will represent the American League in the World Series.

The Twins have had a run of four-straight 90-loss seasons, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Royals roster and see how their players were acquired. Are there similarities between the Twins and the Royals?

THE CORE

I always write and talk about how important it is for the Twins to develop their core and then supplement it with free agents or through trades to find final pieces. Both the 1987 and 1991 World Series championship Minnesota Twins teams had strong cores. Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Greg Gagne were part of both cores. The 1987 team included Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti and Frank Viola who were on the teams when they were losing a lot of games. Dan Gladden, Juan Berenguer and Jeff Reardon were added. Gladden became part of the core of the 1991 team.

The core of the Royals roster are four first-round picks.

Billy Butler was the 14th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Alex Gordon was the #2 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Mike Moustakas was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, and Eric Hosmer was the #3 pick in the 2008 draft. All four of these players have certainly had their ups and downs in their big league career. Fans complain about the lack of power shown by Butler and Hosmer. Alex Gordon struggled early in his career and switched positions. Mike Moustakas has struggled with the bat, and in fact, he was sent down to AAA this year because he was playing so poorly.

Other guys that they have drafted and developed are around the roster. Closer Greg Holland was the team’s 10th round pick in 2007. Lefty Danny Duffy was their third round pick in 2008. Jarrod Dyson was the team’s 50th round pick in 2006. Yes, I meant to type 50th.

In addition, the Royals signed some of their new core as international free agents. Flamethrower Yordano Ventura was signed from the Dominican Republic in 2008. Fellow Triple-Digit tosser Kelvin Herrera signed in 2006. Salvador Perez, who is one of the best catchers in baseball offensively and defensively, signed out of Venezuela in 2006.

In addition, reliever Brandon Finnegan became the first person to play in the College World Series and the Major League World Series in the same year. The lefty pitched for TCU this spring, was selected with the 17th overall pick in June, and was up in September. He played a huge role in the Division Series.

TRADES

The Royals then made a few trades that have had a huge effect on their roster, and on this year’s results. There were a couple of completely opposite trades.
When the Royals were struggling and had a terrific starting pitcher in Zach Greinke, they were able to trade him to Milwaukee. The Brewers sent Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, and the ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain in that deal.

Odorizzi was on the other end of a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays two years ago. Instead of acquiring prospects, the Royals traded one of baseball’s top prospects, Wil Myers, along with Odorizzi and more in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields had become an Ace for the Rays and pitched in the playoffs and the World Series. Davis was a soft-throwing starter who was being moved to the bullpen. The Royals gave him a shot to start last year, but he became arguably baseball’s most dominant reliever in 2014.

In addition, the Royals traded soft-tossing lefty reliever Will Smith to the Brewers last offseason for outfield Nori Aoki. They acquired reliever Jason Frasor at the Trade Deadline for a minor leaguer. They also got Josh Willingham from the Twins in mid-August.

FREE AGENCY

With that core having gained some experience and the Royals starting to show signs of life, they supplemented their team with some free agent signings.
In July of 2012, the Royals traded left Jonathan Sanchez to the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie. Both pitchers had struggled immensely and maybe a change of scenery would help/ Well, Guthrie pitched well down the stretch and turned it into a three year deal worth $25.2 million deal with the Royals. Though he has been about league average in those two seasons, he has worked a combined 214.1 innings for the team.

After letting Ervin Santana go elsewhere after the 2013 season, the Royals signed very soft-tossing left-hander Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract. The move was widely criticized at the time, but Vargas pitched well in the first year.

After trotting out guys like Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz at second base in recent years, the Royals gave Omar Infante a four year, $30.25 million contract to be their second basement. Granted, the 32-year-old hit just .252/.295/.337 (.632), but he has 13 years of big league experience which likely helped the club in some way.

After getting released by the Angels in June, veteran Raul Ibanez signed with the Royals. He hit just .188 with six extra base hits in 90 plate appearances.

Consider this: Had the Twins gone out and signed free agents like Guthrie, Vargas and Infante, would those moves have excited the Twins fan base? Do they scream "OK, now, we're heading to the World Series?"

SUMMARY

The Royals have a pretty young core of talent that should allow them to make a run for a few years. In their regular lineup, Omar Infante is the only hitter over the age of 30. Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer are still under 25 while Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakus are all 28 or less.

Yordano Ventura is 23, and Danny Duffy is 25. Meanwhile, James Shields becomes a free agent at the end of the year and the 32-year-old could bolt for big money. Jeremy Guthrie is 35 and Jason Vargas is 32. They’ll need to develop a couple more pitchers and possibly sign one or two to replace Shields.

The bullpen is full of hard throwers, and they are quite young. The forgotten name might be 2009 first-round pick Aaron Crow who was very good the last couple of years before struggling a little bit in 2014.

A reminder of the Royals first round picks in the last decade:

· 2004 (14) – Billy Butler – High School
· 2005 (2) – Alex Gordon – College – Nebraska
· 2006 (1) – Luke Hochevar – College – Tennessee
· 2007 (2) – Mike Moustakas – High School
· 2008 (3) – Eric Hosmer – High School
· 2009 (12) – Aaron Crow – College – Missouri
· 2010 (4) – Christian Colon – College – Cal State Fullerton
· 2011 (5) – Bubba Starling – High School
· 2012 (5) – Kyle Zimmer – College – San Francisco
· 2013 (8) – Hunter Dozier – College – Stephen F. Austin
· 2013 (34) – Sean Manaea – College – Indiana State
· 2014 (18) – Brandon Finnegan – College – TCU

The Royals have had a boatload of very high draft picks and for the most part, they have made good on them. Hochevar was moved to the bullpen in 2013 and posted an ERA south of two. He had Tommy John surgery this spring. Colon made his MLB debut in 2014. Starling, Zimmer and Dozier are all participating in the Arizona Fall League.

HOW DO THE TWINS COMPARE?

Are the Twins doing any of the things that have made the Royals successful this year? Head on over to Twins Daily now to see how the Twins system compares to the Royals of previous years and where it could lead.

TwinsCentric: What will Twins' identity be going forward?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: October 7, 2014 - 9:18 PM

On Friday, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals will kick off the American League Championship Series. Both teams had successful seasons and have had extremely successful postseasons thus far.

They've reached a stage that the Twins, obviously, would like to return to, so it makes sense to examine these two clubs for inspiration as the rebuild pushes onward.

You can draw some similarities between the Orioles and Royals, but in many ways they are polar opposites. 

Baltimore is built around power. They led the majors with 211 homers and ranked last with 44 steals. Not one player on the O's roster swiped more than eight bases this season. This is a plodding, station-to-station club whose strategy is very much built around producing runs with base-clearing hits and homers.

Conversely, the Royals are all speed and no power. They ranked last in the majors in home runs (95) but first in steals (153). They barely sneaked into the playoffs but were able to shockingly sweep a 98-win Angels team with a small-ball offensive attack characterized by aggressive base-running and lots (I mean LOTS) of sacrifice bunting.

I have little doubt that the Twins, at least under Ron Gardenhire, would have very much aspired to tailor themselves after the Royals. That's a brand of baseball that this organization has constantly held up as the golden standard over the years. However, when you look at the composition of this roster -- and the way it figures to evolve going forward -- there's no denying that the Twins are much more likely to assume Baltimore's profile.

By the end of next season, the middle of Minnesota's lineup will likely be anchored by Oswaldo Arcia, Kennys Vargas and Miguel Sano -- slow-footed sluggers. Elsewhere you've got guys like Joe Mauer, Kurt Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe, who also aren't threats with their legs.

Sure, there's Brian Dozier and Danny Santana, and eventually Byron Buxton. Maybe they'll add a speedster as a free agent. But barring a major shakeup or trade, the Twins aren't really going to have the personnel to execute the kind of speed-based, small-ball approach that they've so often striven for in the past. 

Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

On the pitching side, there's good news. Neither the Orioles nor Royals have particularly strikeout-heavy staffs. Baltimore ranked 10th in the AL in K/9 rate this year, and Kansas City ranked 12th. The Twins, of course, ranked last with a miserable 6.5 K/9 rate, but the ground they need to make up to reach that level is obviously much smaller than the top tier.

Therein lies the rub. The key that allowed these staffs to excel without tons of strikeouts is found in one one clear commonality between the two teams: outstanding defense. Baltimore has several high-end fielders and KC has been hailed by some as the best defensive unit to come along in years.

Here's where the Twins are far, far behind. The path to returning to defensive excellence -- a longtime philosophical foundation and clearly a critical component in succeeding as a team -- is murky. As I wrote a month ago, the presence of so many slow power-hitters within the offensive core makes it highly difficult to field a defense with great speed and range.

To me, this overarching paradox represents the greatest roadblock in a return to contention. The Twins have the offensive pieces to score runs -- albeit more in Baltimore's style than Kansas City's -- but can they create a dynamic with their pitching staff and defense that allows them to prevent scoring in the same way as the Orioles (third-fewest runs allowed in AL) and Royals (fourth-fewest)?

You've got to have power pitching or strong defense -- ideally both. But you can't have neither. This is where the identity crisis truly lies.

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