Twins up to date on stats, but not loud about it

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2011 - 1:11 AM

2011 BASEBALL PREVIEW The Twins pride themselves on scouting but say they also are in line with trends about statistics.

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A statistic known as UZR — ultimate zone rating — determines how many runs a player saves or costs his team defensively. For example, Delmon Young cost the Twins 9.7 runs last season compared with the average left fielder.

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The Twins haven't been ignoring baseball's statistical revolution. They're just not out front talking about it all the time.

Many analysts have paid special attention to the Red Sox, Athletics, Rays and other teams viewed to be on the cutting edge of statistical analysis.

The 2003 book "Moneyball," by Michael Lewis, is being turned into a movie, with Brad Pitt set to play Athletics General Manager Billy Beane. The Red Sox have statistical guru Bill James working for them as a consultant.

Meanwhile, the Twins, who pride themselves on their scouting, are sometimes seen as a team falling behind the curve.

"We've been using stats as long as anybody," said Mike Radcliff, the team's vice president for player personnel. "We don't have three full-time guys from MIT crunching stats like a few teams do. Most of us do it on our own. That's just the Twins way."

The Twins have themselves to blame for the perception that they're stuck in the dark ages. Former GM Terry Ryan, who remains part of current GM Bill Smith's inner circle, is viewed as one of baseball's top talent evaluators. But Ryan and other Twins officials almost seem to relish their old-school image.

"Terry Ryan spends at least two hours of statistical analysis before he ever sees a game," Smith said. "He's got so much information on his [scorecard] that he can watch a team and he's got everything he needs."

The Twins insist they aren't just using basic stats, such as a player's splits against righthanders and lefthanders.

"We had runs created as part of our equation the first year Bill James published it in his 'Baseball Abstract,' " Radcliff said.

James began self-publishing his abstract in the mid-1970s, and his hard-cover "Historical Baseball Abstract" appeared in 1985. He dissected baseball's traditional stats -- batting average, home runs, RBI, walks -- and produced metrics, such as runs created, that explained more about a player's actual production.

The sabermetric community's influence has grown steadily in recent years. Now, whenever a team makes a move, readers flock to websites such as fangraphs.com and baseballprospectus.com to understand the statistical merits, or lack thereof.

The Twins have left themselves open to criticism because they have yet to hire a full-time statistical expert, as many teams have done. Last year, Smith hired an intern in the baseball operations department with an emphasis on statistical analysis, but the Twins did not seek another stats expert to fill that role this year.

"We're constantly tinkering with the right formula with how our office staff sets up, what support we need to provide to our people," Smith said.

The Twins have bolstered their IT support staff to streamline scouting reports and other data they collect on amateur and professional players.

"We have tremendous confidence in our scouts," Smith said. "These guys are relentless. And each scout has statistical analysis that he goes through as he's writing those reports. So it's not that we just get blind reports without any thought going into it."

Many of baseball's recent statistical breakthroughs have focused on defense, and this is where the Twins remain skeptical.

John Dewan, author of "The Fielding Bible" (volumes I and II), runs a company called Baseball Information Solutions, with a team of video analysts who track every pitch in every major league game, recording heaps of data. Fangraphs.com uses that data to calculate its increasingly referenced fielding statistic, ultimate zone rating (UZR).

"I've read both of John's books twice now," Radcliff said. "We've looked at UZR and recognize it. It's just not something we're completely comfortable with yet. It's just so abstract. It's not quite definitive enough, but [defensive statistics] will continue to evolve."

The Twins will keep evolving, too, even if others perceive them as being stuck in time.

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