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  • 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. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      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?
      Nice article. The idea that the Twins can skimp on payroll and still duplicate the success of the small market Rays, A's and Pirates is folly if this article article is to be believed. If you want to win, having a low payroll can't be the only similarity to these forward thinking clubs.

      This article helps to demonstrate that taking advantage of 21st century analysis and actually utilizing the results is a key.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      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.
      Agreed, it is about a lot of things working together strategically. Pitching, fielding, FO, coaches, statisticians, everyone.......I don't get that feeling in MN at all, but for all we know they are acting this way, and it just isn't working.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Agreed, it is about a lot of things working together strategically. Pitching, fielding, FO, coaches, statisticians, everyone.......I don't get that feeling in MN at all, but for all we know they are acting this way, and it just isn't working.
      The Twin's shifting might not have been as dramatic, more shading. Somebody who watched more games in the glory days could confirm that. The Twins wanted GB type pitchers. That is why the Twins were drafting control type pitchers. Two small problems. If a two seam doesn't do what it is supposed to do it becomes a line drive going the other way. The other problem is a control pitcher can get injured, too. When both happen to your staff, the result is the Twins staff, not the Pirates.
      In the end it is still about having talent. There is only three ways to add talent. Develop it, which is hard to do when you draft poorly. Trade for it, which you need to have something to get something. Sign a free agent that has something left. Tampa, Oakland and Pittsburg are riding with the ability to get by on the first two methods while needing only to add a spare part inexpensively by FA. When you have a string of poor drafts and poor trades, you don't have much to trade nor play.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim H View Post
      This was a very good article. Thank you. While I understand the impatience and even anger that many show towards the Twins organization, I tend to appreciate what the Ryan and others are trying to do here. I am old enough to remember when the Twins came to Minnesota in 61. In over 50 years of Twins baseball, there have been 2 periods of sustained competitive baseball by the Twins. The mid-sixties to early seventies stretch and the 2000's stretch. The 87 Twins and 91 Twins were exciting and fun, but both were the kind of rather flukey years that happen in baseball, not really the result of a strong and deep organization.

      I am excited for might happen over the next 10 years or so. The Twins have acquired some very fine front line talent, potential superstars. Things might happen and that might not occur, but clearly the talent is there. What I like, as you suggest, is that the Twins have not abandoned what has worked for them before. There are a number of potential Radkes and solid positional talent in the organization. Guys who will likely get the most out of their talent, and they could turn out to be better players then we currently expect.

      What is needed is a certain amount of patience. I have nothing against going out buying some front line starting pitching, even if it means overpaying. What I hope we don't see, is getting too impatient and trading potential front line talent for 2 years of even very good pitching. I think Kansas City will regret trading Myers even though the trade has made them much more competitive than they would have been without the trade. The discussion yesterday about trading Rosario illustrates what I mean. If you are sure he isn't a front line talent and he can bring back 2 or more years of top flight pitching, make the deal. But he could be pretty special, I think, and making this sort of deal is probably pretty short sighted. It could make you more competitive right now, but is highly unlikely to turn you into a playoff team, and will almost certainly make you worse 3 or 4 years from now.

      Personally, and I realize that many don't feel this way, I want a team that has a good chance to be competitive year after year for many years. I don't believe in rolling the dice and trying extra hard for a World Series in any particular year. It is too easy for what happened to Toronto this year to happen and now you have morgaged your future, saddled yourself with long term contracts that you can't easily get rid of, and each year your chances of competing get worst.

      Again I appreciate, your post.

      Good post!!! KC will regret trading Will Myers for the next 15 years!!
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      The Twin's shifting might not have been as dramatic, more shading. Somebody who watched more games in the glory days could confirm that. The Twins wanted GB type pitchers. That is why the Twins were drafting control type pitchers. Two small problems. If a two seam doesn't do what it is supposed to do it becomes a line drive going the other way. The other problem is a control pitcher can get injured, too. When both happen to your staff, the result is the Twins staff, not the Pirates.
      In the end it is still about having talent. There is only three ways to add talent. Develop it, which is hard to do when you draft poorly. Trade for it, which you need to have something to get something. Sign a free agent that has something left. Tampa, Oakland and Pittsburg are riding with the ability to get by on the first two methods while needing only to add a spare part inexpensively by FA. When you have a string of poor drafts and poor trades, you don't have much to trade nor play.
      Oakland signed a Cuban FA for real money....even they have done it.
    1. Rick Blaine's Avatar
      Rick Blaine -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      Some perspective...

      Wouldn't a one year Johan Santana signing this winter be very similar? Johan would be a year younger than Jack. He hasn't had a good season for three years. I looked for a different comp that was healthy but there aren't very many guys that put up ERA+ of 79 and 89 and continue getting the ball every fifth day.

      .
      I would bring back Johan Santana just because he is Johan Santana. A wounded Johan Santana would be more fun to watch than most members of the current rotation.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Oakland signed a Cuban FA for real money....even they have done it.
      The exchange was about pitching. I was not aware that Cespedes was pitching.
    1. Kobs's Avatar
      Kobs -
      There is no such thing as the "Twins Way." There was Tom Kelly's way. He retired. Now the Twins are a stodgy old franchise that doesn't even attempt to innovate in order to overcome their self imposed financial shortcomings.
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