• The Twins Way

    How many times have we heard someone say, “The Twins need to get back to emphasizing the Twins Way?” Or, perhaps just as often we hear, “the Twins need to forget about the Twins Way crap… it doesn’t work.” Either way, “The Twins Way” has become a cliché and a pretty tired one, at that.

    But what is The Twins Way? We have some vague idea that it’s about playing good defense, running the bases intelligently, moving runners effectively and, yes, “pitching to contact” (how’s that for using one tired cliché to define another one?).



    But I think it goes much, much deeper than all of that. I think The Twins Way is a philosophy – a culture that is embedded at every level of the organization.

    It is a culture that has led to a fair amount of success for the Twins over the years, as a Major League Baseball team and as a privately owned and operated for-profit business.

    It’s also a culture that has driven many Twins fans to such a level of frustration that they’re almost incapable of having any discussion about the ballclub that doesn’t include a loud cry to get rid of the ownership, the front office executives, the manager, the coaches or, quite often, all of the above.

    Of course, taking issue with how those in authority run things is almost as ingrained in American culture as baseball itself. On the other hand, whether the subject is government, business or sports, those with no clue about how to actually run something are often the most vocal critics of those who do.

    But if we’re going to have a dialogue about the pros and cons of The Twins Way, I think we should get our arms around what that actually means, so at least we all know what we’re talking about when we hear the term used or, heaven forbid, use the term ourselves.

    (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com.)

    In my mind, The Twins Way starts with the concept of getting the best possible efforts and results out of whatever level of talent specific players might possess. The 1987 World Champion Twins. The “piranhas.” Brad Radke and Nick Punto.


    Terry Ryan discusses the “Twins way” with a minor leaguer during spring training in 2010. The player quickly tucked his jersey back in his pants.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this concept. It’s what every organization SHOULD strive to achieve, isn’t it?

    And if you have a baseball team filled with overachieving mid-level talent, you can occasionally catch lightning in a bottle and accomplish great things. When that happens, the entire community and fan base rightfully takes great pride in the accomplishment.

    Sometimes, however, it causes those in charge to conclude that catching that lightning is something that can be repeated consistently or, even worse, that what’s been accomplished is not due to something as random as lightning strikes, but was actually accomplished by intentionally identifying potential new piranhas or the “next Brad Radke.”

    In fairness, this aspect of The Twins Way has its roots in necessity. Going back to the near-contraction days, the Carl Pohlad-owned Twins had to find inexpensive ways to compete with the rich clubs. They weren’t going to get Roger Clemens, so they needed to figure out how to win with Radke-types.

    Scouts looked for a certain sort of “make-up” in high school and college players, not to mention minor leaguers. “Toolsy” position players and “pitch to contact” pitchers with good “make-up” were perhaps deemed more affordable, short term and long term, than top-tier talents who would not only be more costly to sign initially, but would be more likely to bolt for major market teams as soon as they could escape their serfdom with the Twins.

    Shopping the free agent market meant picking through the bargain bins once the teams with real money to spend signed all the best available talent. There was never enough money in the coffers to retain the Twins’ own free agents, much less pay for those hitting the market from other organizations.

    The move to Target Field was supposed to change things and, in many ways, it has. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the people running the show and they are smart people. They know baseball and they know they need to put a better product on the field. To their credit, they’ve made some of the necessary cultural changes.

    Starting with the draft and international signings, the Twins have begun to spend money. The Twins outbid the Pirates for Dominican Miguel Sano and they’ve used the early draft picks that come with having really bad seasons to select what are arguably the best athletes available, such as Byron Buxton, rather than use “sign-ability” as a code word for spending as little as possible on new talent.

    They re-signed the players they deemed the most critical to retain from among their own group of free agents, including a significant extension for Justin Morneau and an eight-year contract for Joe Mauer at $23 million per year.

    They’ve dipped their toes in the mid-range levels of free agency, signing players like Josh Willingham and Kevin Correia to multi-year contracts at mid-seven digit levels annually.

    As the Twins complete a third consecutive season in which they’re likely to lose at least 90 games, it may not seem like it but The Twins Way is changing.

    They’re still teaching the importance of fundamentals at the lower levels of the minor leagues, but they’re teaching those fundamentals to, on balance, a group of ballplayers with more pure talent than used to be the case. In time, we should see these talented players working just as hard as the piranhas did and winning more games as a result.

    As I see it, there’s really one remaining major cultural paradigm within the organization that needs to change and it’s probably the most difficult change for the organization to make. It has to do with being prepared to spend significant money on top-tier free agents from other organizations, even if it means having to risk paying more for their talents than your best judgment tells you they are worth.

    Not doing so won’t prevent the Twins from eventually becoming competitive again. Three years from now (maybe even two, if everything falls right), the talent in their minor league pipeline could well have the Twins competing for an AL Central Division title again.

    But if they show their historical patience, how many fans will still be showing up at Target Field by then? It’s a lot harder to get fans to come back than it is to keep them, but you need to be willing to give them a reason to keep showing up.

    It doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure out what the Twins need to improve significantly next season. It will require the same thing everyone knew it would take a year ago… and the year before that. It will take better starting pitching – much better starting pitching.

    Adding the kind of pitching required won’t be easy. They’ll have to outbid teams that have had more recent success for one or more of the best available free agent arms and/or they’ll need to let go of some of their highly coveted young prospects to get pitching help via trade. Either way, they’ll need to be willing to spend money, perhaps a lot of it.

    If they add nobody of significance to their roster, they’ll start 2014 with a payroll just slightly more than half of what they had committed to their Opening Day roster in 2011, so there’s no argument to be made that money isn’t available.

    The only remaining question is whether General Manager Terry Ryan and others running the organization are prepared to let go of the last remaining tie to the old culture and spend that money.

    In his excellent article at TwinsDaily.com, Nick Nelson laid out a number of reasons Twins fans should be optimistic that Ryan will do exactly that.

    I hope he’s right. I want so badly to believe he’s right.

    But after expecting more aggressive moves the past two winters and being left thoroughly disappointed, I just can’t convince myself to believe it until I see it.

    - JC

    I opine about the Twins and Kernels regularly at Knuckleballsblog.com while my alter ego, SD Buhr covers the Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com.

    ~You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant~

    This article was originally published in blog: The Twins Way started by Jim Crikket
    Comments 48 Comments
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by howieramone View Post
      You're aware Pinto, Arcia, and Sano are International signings right? Sano is 20, so if you're asking about 19, 18, and 17 year-olds there is some really good information on the board. IMHO things look just fine.
      The article's contention seemed to be the Twins were making significant investments in international free agents, which Sano was an example of. But I can't really think of any major international signings besides Sano. (That's not to say the Twins haven't gotten some solid prospects in the international market, but they haven't invested that much in them, nor have they gotten any stars out of it yet either.)

      Which actually brings up an interesting point: has the Twins efforts in the international market produced results, compared to other MLB clubs? Just scanning the division for original international signings:

      Detroit: Omar Infante, Avisail Garcia, Bruce Rondon
      Cleveland: Danny Salazar (plus Victor Martinez & Jhonny Peralta, now with Detroit)
      KC: Salvador Perez
      CHW: Ramirez, Viciedo

      The Twins now have Arcia & Pinto, but those are the first notable international free agents the Twins signed that reached MLB in awhile, correct? Scanning Twins rosters all the way back to 1987, here's what I found:

      Jose Mijares
      Juan Rincon
      Luis Rivas
      ...
      Mark Portugal?

      They have acquired some international guys by trade etc. (Johan, Guzman, etc) but that seems like a pretty thin record. Since they also don't sign significant free agents, it's kind of a wonder they won anything -- they were pretty much 100% dependent on drafts and trades. Sano (and Arcia/Pinto) notwithstanding, they still have been, until the present day.

      Hopefully Arcia, Pinto, and Sano start a new wave for us, but I suspect the bigger effect will be the new international spending caps (like how the draft spending caps likely netted us Buxton).
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Amaurys Minier, Lewin Diaz, Lewis Thorpe.
      Thanks Seth. Those are good names, although it should be noted that all three of these guys were signed after the MLB adopted international spending caps, dramatically reducing the player's negotiating leverage. Not that they can't turn out to be good signs (although all of them are very far from MLB), but it's basically mandated spending, like the Buxton bonus.

      What were the Twins top international bonuses prior to 2012, besides Sano? Kepler (another 2009 Smith guy)? Smit? I'm having trouble thinking of any major pre-2012 Dominican/Venezuelan Twins signings... Arcia signed for $80k, I can't even find Pinto's bonus amount anywhere...
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      He asked, other than Sano:

      Did they go big internationally, before or since


      You then proceeded to list Sano as part of the group that proved this wrong. The other two - Pinto and Arcia - were not "big" international signings by any imagination. They were good ones, but completely irrelevant to the question asked. It was in reference to spending significant money to bring in players.

      Instead, you made it about what you want to keep saying, not about what the point actually was.
      Unlike when Sano was signed there are now limits on spending for amateur free agents. The whole back and forth on if the Twins spend big to sign players in that market is moot. The world changed and there are new rules for them to play by. As you know, they can spend more, but there are penalties associated with that. Now if you were to talk about the former international professionals in other leagues seeking their new fame and fortune in America, the answer would be not much has been done there.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      Unlike when Sano was signed there are now limits on spending for amateur free agents. The whole back and forth on if the Twins spend big to sign players in that market is moot. The world changed and there are new rules for them to play by. As you know, they can spend more, but there are penalties associated with that. Now if you were to talk about the former international professionals in other leagues seeking their new fame and fortune in America, the answer would be not much has been done there.
      Very true, which is why I'm hoping we very aggressively pursue Tanaka or Abreu.
    1. OldTwinky's Avatar
      OldTwinky -
      This was good. It was fair. Still I cannot help but feel we the fans and tax payers have been treated unfairly. Isn't turn about fair play? I actually think the MN nice thing with most of the fans has gone too far and the fans need to be way more disillusioned and harsh with their opinions. In MN we have to push hard because the pro sport franchises have cocooned themselves inside a market in which they complete control the media that continually spins their terribleness into something that is simply cyclical or not ownerships/front offices fault. It just gets so tiresome.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      He asked, other than Sano:

      Did they go big internationally, before or since


      You then proceeded to list Sano as part of the group that proved this wrong. The other two - Pinto and Arcia - were not "big" international signings by any imagination. They were good ones, but completely irrelevant to the question asked. It was in reference to spending significant money to bring in players.

      Instead, you made it about what you want to keep saying, not about what the point actually was.
      Moderator note -- please cool it with this side discussion.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      I sometimes wonder whether there are weaknesses in the Twins organization that we are not able to quantify, such as deficiencies scouting and minor league coaching. There seems to be no good way to measure this, but scouting and minor league coaching seem very important to building a strong organization, especially for a mid-market team.

      I would love to see the Twins bring in some top people from the Rays and Athletics organizations. Those two teams seem to get better results despite smaller revenues than the Twins. Maybe some new ideas could help a lot over the long run.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      I sometimes wonder whether there are weaknesses in the Twins organization that we are not able to quantify, such as deficiencies scouting and minor league coaching. There seems to be no good way to measure this, but scouting and minor league coaching seem very important to building a strong organization, especially for a mid-market team.

      I would love to see the Twins bring in some top people from the Rays and Athletics organizations. Those two teams seem to get better results despite smaller revenues than the Twins. Maybe some new ideas could help a lot over the long run.
      To some degree the better results you are referring to depend a bit on sample size. If we use the last 3 years, well yes the Rays and the A's have much better results. If we compare the last 15 years, well the Twins would likely come out on top. I don't know if either sample size is exactly what we should be looking at. I suspect that both the Rays and the A's would like greater resources to work with. Both teams, like the Twins have come up short of winning a World Series and both have shipped off productive talent before they likely wanted to(sometimes called trading at peak value).

      What I admire about both organizations is that they both have found quite a bit of good, young pitching. It is also true that both organizations are short of home grown offensive talent. There are trade offs.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      "Of course, taking issue with how those in authority run things is almost as ingrained in American culture as baseball itself. On the other hand, whether the subject is government, business or sports, those with no clue about how to actually run something are often the most vocal critics of those who do."

      This is the most perceptive quote from the article.


    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thegrin View Post
      "Of course, taking issue with how those in authority run things is almost as ingrained in American culture as baseball itself. On the other hand, whether the subject is government, business or sports, those with no clue about how to actually run something are often the most vocal critics of those who do."

      This is the most perceptive quote from the article.
      Another appeal to authority argument. "If you aren't in the job, you can't criticize someone". It is great as a rhetorical tool, but not so great for encouraging democracy and encouraging critical thinking. And what makes people think some of us don't run large parts of companies?
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Another appeal to authority argument. "If you aren't in the job, you can't criticize someone". It is great as a rhetorical tool, but not so great for encouraging democracy and encouraging critical thinking. And what makes people think some of us don't run large parts of companies?
      There's that, and as far as that particular part of the article went, it was just plain insulting to some readers. It's when I stopped reading the article...and I'm not the only one who stopped reading at that point either.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I guess my biggest issue with the love of "The Twins Way" is summed up in paragraph two:

      "But what is The Twins Way? We have some vague idea that it’s about playing good defense, running the bases intelligently, moving runners effectively and, yes, “pitching to contact”

      To me it just seems so arogent to think the Twins have cornered the market on this. Aside from the archaic PTC philosophy, doesn't every team strive to play good defense and run the bases well? Are we to think the Twins are special because they teach their youngsters fundementals of baseball? EVERY team wants to play good defense and run the bases wisely. Every team wants to move runners over as opposed to hitting in front of the them. Every team wants their outfielders to know when to hit the cut off man.

      It's conceited to think the Twins either invented these philosophies and/or every other team abandoned them.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      Quote Originally Posted by Old Twins Cap View Post
      The Twins way:
      a. Do not try a pickoff play, ever, especially the catcher, because why risk throwing the ball away?
      b. Do not try a squeeze play, ever, because you might lose a baserunner.
      c. Do not hit and run -- risk of swing and miss.
      d. Do not make yourself into a running team because you might make outs on the bases, even though you are not a power team.
      e. Do not try to hit home runs because you might strike out, and anyway, the Twins are more of a "do the little things" type team.
      f. Hit the other way, even if it means dinky singles from your number 3 hitter.
      g. Play for one run whenever possible, even with one of the worst pitching staffs in the league.
      h. Play your backup catcher or 1B in right field as often as possible because you need the offense you aren't getting from them in the first place.

      So, in essence, it boils down to: Don't take any chances. Don't risk anything. Just play the game the way it is supposed to be played, sacrifice often, run station to station, let the other team hit the ball and go get it -- no passion, no surprises, none of this high risk--high reward stuff. Definitely the most boring team in baseball. Hands down.

      And now, they are too afraid of having to replace a manager to let him go during the season. Talk about risk averse. A guy who has lost 90 games three years in a row, has a 12-game playoff losing streak and has only won one playoff series -- ever. I mean, the Twins lack of "going for it" -- for anything, anywhere, anytime, is ... for lack of a better word, pathetic.
      Great post, but the lack of responses tell me your post is a little too controversial for this forum.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Another appeal to authority argument. "If you aren't in the job, you can't criticize someone". It is great as a rhetorical tool, but not so great for encouraging democracy and encouraging critical thinking. And what makes people think some of us don't run large parts of companies?
      To answer your question without getting a lifetime ban will be difficult. The line from the article was the inflammatory comment I mentioned earlier. People make judgments of people based on what they post and how they respond to other posts. The line in the article is that person's observation, shared by others, on what the vocal critics post. If anything, it is meant to encourage critical thinking before one posts some rant. Personally, I see a lot of very narrow focused frequent complaints that miss the bigger picture. When I managed departments I felt like you needed to see the bigger picture. Maybe these posters have run something, but it might not be evident in how they post. On the other hand, this forum does become a venting session. Venting and critical thinking often do not go together.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Old Twins Cap View Post
      The Twins way:
      a. Do not try a pickoff play, ever, especially the catcher, because why risk throwing the ball away?
      b. Do not try a squeeze play, ever, because you might lose a baserunner.
      c. Do not hit and run -- risk of swing and miss.
      d. Do not make yourself into a running team because you might make outs on the bases, even though you are not a power team.
      e. Do not try to hit home runs because you might strike out, and anyway, the Twins are more of a "do the little things" type team.
      f. Hit the other way, even if it means dinky singles from your number 3 hitter.
      g. Play for one run whenever possible, even with one of the worst pitching staffs in the league.
      h. Play your backup catcher or 1B in right field as often as possible because you need the offense you aren't getting from them in the first place.
      I agree with the sentiment that the Twins are too conservative, not only in the front office but on the diamond but I don't know that all of these are issues, or at least still issues.

      The Twins have done a fair amount of hit-and-running in the past, but they haven't had too many guys with even modest speed recently and even fewer guys with on-base skills to be in the position to run. The hit-and-run has dropped off with Mauer batting #3, but I think that has more to do with Mauer's tendancy to drive the ball up the middle, which would be where the middle infielders are heading during a steal. And let's face it, unless Mauer's at the plate, the hit-and-run is kind of stupid with a bunch of sub .300 OBP guys at the plate.

      While I agree the Twins Way has limited power in the past by preaching going the other way, I think that changed last year when they let righthanders Willingham and Plouffe rip away to left field.

      I do agree with other complaints though. I hate playing for one run, and I hate pinch running for your best hitter who is standing on 1st with two outs in the 8th or 9th. I hate how much playing time back up catchers get.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      To answer your question without getting a lifetime ban will be difficult. The line from the article was the inflammatory comment I mentioned earlier. People make judgments of people based on what they post and how they respond to other posts. The line in the article is that person's observation, shared by others, on what the vocal critics post. If anything, it is meant to encourage critical thinking before one posts some rant. Personally, I see a lot of very narrow focused frequent complaints that miss the bigger picture. When I managed departments I felt like you needed to see the bigger picture. Maybe these posters have run something, but it might not be evident in how they post. On the other hand, this forum does become a venting session. Venting and critical thinking often do not go together.

      This is fair, and your points are generally spot on. Venting and critical thinking rarely work together. But that wasn't really what was stated, imo. Sometimes venting is cool, sometimes it is just too often, to strongly worded.

      Personally, I don't think it is true that people that have never had a job can not criticize those that do. What they probably can't do is criticize with certainty.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      I think that the "Twins Way" didn't start out as an organizational philosophy, rather it developed around the players the Twins had in the early 2000s. The Twins Way was what those players did well. The Twins didn't have much for power arms or bats, so we celebrated hitting spots and not issuing walks, and hitting the ball to the opposite field for singles. Good defense wasn't unique to the Twins, but when you're an otherwise unspectacular team, you promote your strengths I guess.

      Later I think it became an expectation that Twins rookies were supposed to live up to, which may or may not have fit their individual talents.
    1. Marta Shearing's Avatar
      Marta Shearing -
      There's lots of organizational arrogance surrounding the "Twins way". I think the Twins are a little to giddy over winning mediocre Central Divisions when they should be embarassed and apologizing for their woeful, and I mean woeful playoff performances.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      someday I'd like to read an article about the Twins like this.....

      Aggressive defensive plan has led to Pirates' turnaround | TribLIVE

      maybe about using only 3 "starters"......but I have my doubts right now. any way to know the percent of other teams (like, say, the Twins) on how much they shift?
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      someday I'd like to read an article about the Twins like this.....

      Aggressive defensive plan has led to Pirates' turnaround | TribLIVE

      maybe about using only 3 "starters"......but I have my doubts right now. any way to know the percent of other teams (like, say, the Twins) on how much they shift?
      Pitch to contact and defend is what they are doing.

      from the article
      • Position players had to change. They had to shift from areas of the field where they had been stationed their entire careers and trust the pitching staff's ability to locate pitches.

      The last 7 words are kind of key in how P2C works. Effectively for the Pirates, they have a league leading GB rate of 52.4%, and one of the lower LD% It is not shifting alone. It is the overall pitching with defense. When other clubs start to plan for that, hitters will need to adjust.
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