In explaining why the 2017 American League Manager of the Year is no longer managing the Twins, Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey spun a few memorable phrases Tuesday that provided some insight.
Falvey said the decision to move on from Paul Molitor as manager was a “complex decision,” adding that “a lot has transpired” in the last 12 months since Molitor won the award while also putting an emphasis on “growth and development” that fell flat in 2018.
Truth is, it’s hard to know the specific reasons without crawling into the minds of Falvey and general manager Thad Levine – spaces that some Twins fans have increasingly become convinced are filled with something other than baseball knowledge.
Where we should take Falvey at about 100 percent face value, though, is with this: When asked if the new Twins manager will need to embrace advanced numbers and analytics, Falvey said yes.
But he added: “I will say this: Paul in particular was incredibly open-minded to things.”
Indeed, this is perhaps the most interesting part of the equation. While we might not know exactly why Molitor was fired, we should believe that analytics was not the reason.
While that might have been the biggest question about the marriage of the sides given that Molitor was already the Twins manager for two seasons under Terry Ryan before a radically new brain trust arrived, the Twins under Molitor were among the most forward-thinking in baseball in multiple areas.
The 2016 Twins, for instance, employed an infield shift — defined by Baseball Savant as having three infielders on one side of second base — on 12.6 percent of all plate appearances. By 2018, that number had grown to 28.4 percent, the third-most of all teams in MLB.
Molitor managed both teams, but he was nimble enough to recognize both the changes in the game and the wishes of his new bosses in order to alter his philosophy.
The Twins were also among a handful of teams this season to experiment heavily with the concept of an “opener” — having a relief pitcher throw the first inning before bringing in a “primary pitcher” to work the next four or five innings under less duress.
Molitor is a Hall of Fame player. In his rookie season of 1978, there were 1,034 complete games thrown in the major leagues. In 2018, his fourth year as Twins manager, there were a total of 42. He could have looked at the opener trend as an absurdity.
Instead, a few weeks ago, he said this: “We think it has merit. We’re trying to see how it plays out.”
Falvey and Levine insisted the decision wasn’t about wins and losses this season, though it’s hard to imagine Tuesday playing out the way it did had the season played out with 10 more wins.
To that end, Molitor might be culpable of not squeezing the maximum out of his teams. He finished 22 games under .500 in one-run games as Twins manager, including 15-21 this year; Ron Gardenhire’s Twins teams, by contrast, were a combined 30 games over .500 in one-run games in his 13 seasons.
Then again, Gardenhire had the benefit of great bullpens led by lights-out closer Joe Nathan in many of those seasons. Molitor was mostly handed bullpens-by-committee, particularly in his two years under the new regime.
On balance, Molitor had two surprisingly good years as manager (2015 and 2017), one shockingly awful one (2016) and one disappointing one (2018).
Maybe the closest thing to the truth is that Falvey and Levine never became fully comfortable with Molitor at the helm and want to make their own hire.
And maybe no amount of adapting to analytics on Molitor’s part was ever going to spare him.