• These Ain't Your Old Twins

    Answering the same question over and over again had to be growing tiresome for Twins officials.

    Because baseball fans in general are becoming increasingly analytical in the way they watch the game (this site serves as a great example), and because the organization has earned a reputation for taking a more traditional, scouting-based approach, seemingly every interview with an exec or front office member has included some query on the Twins' progress in the area of statistical analysis.

    This placed Terry Ryan, or Rob Antony, or Jack Goin, or whoever, in the tough position of needing to reveal enough about their internal process to satisfy skeptics while withholding enough so as not to give away any kind of competitive advantage.

    The refrain has always been the same: We do have a statistics department, they do have influence and we are not as behind the times as everyone seems to think.

    Yet, while that all sounds nice, it's been hard to buy into because the actions simply have not matched the words. With a pitching staff that was already drastically out of line with the league-wide proliferation of high-strikeout arms, the Twins last year signed two more contact-heavy hurlers whose peripheral numbers suggested little upside.

    This year has been a much different story. Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes aren't superstars, but they are certainly the type of pitchers that a club leaning on deeper statistics might be expected to target.

    Nolasco's career 4.37 ERA isn't too impressive, but for many years he has been a darling of the sabermetric community because of his consistently strong fielding independent marks. In all but one of the past six seasons, his xFIP has been lower than 3.70, thanks in large part to his outstanding K/BB ratios.

    The superior secondary numbers haven't frequently translated into top-tier performance, but if you're going to take a chance and make a large investment in a guy, he's a sound choice based on the underlying indicators.

    The same can be said for Hughes. He's got his obvious warts -- he's exceeded 150 innings in a season only once, he has been extremely homer-prone and he's coming off a 5.19 ERA -- but there's plenty to like about this signing.

    As a fly ball pitcher, Hughes was miscast in Yankee Stadium, where pop-ups seem to sometimes find the seats. This was reflected by a 1-10 record and 6.32 ERA in the home yard this past season.

    Pitching in spacious Target Field should alleviate some of the righty's gopher ball issues while hopefully allowing his strengths to manifest. A former first-round draft pick and top prospect, Hughes throws in the mid-90s and is capable of missing bats, albeit not at a spectacular rate. Much like Nolasco, his secondary numbers are the most appealing thing about him.

    These signings weren't about simply getting guys who can go out and throw 180 innings, as we've seen too often in the past. These were about bringing in established arms with real, meaningful upside.

    That's precisely what needs to be done at this point. I've been as disenchanted with the front office as anyone over the past couple years, but this past week has really restored a lot of my faith. I like the aggressiveness, I like the approach, I like the decisions.

    Are these moves guaranteed to work out? Of course not. But if they don't, the Twins can say they tried and based their investments on good science. And they've still got lots of offseason left to continue demonstrating their seriousness.

    If Ryan is walking with a bit of a strut when he shows up at the Winter Meetings in Orlando next week, he'll have earned the right.
    This article was originally published in blog: These Ain't Your Old Twins started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 64 Comments
    1. tjsyam921's Avatar
      tjsyam921 -
      I can't help but wonder how different it would be had the twins traded Santana for Hughes. Would Hughes have been a better pitcher for the twins? Would he even be a twin in 2014 as he would still be a free agent?
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      I am incredibly grateful that, thus far, this off-season has been significantly different than last. I really felt like they took fans for granted last year but that they seemingly took notice of decreasing attendance and television viewership to figure out that they had to take some risks and spend some money to try to put a better product on the field while waiting for some of the prospects to mature.

      We don't know if the moves will work out .... but even if they don't, I hope it doesn't discourage the team from continuing to take some calculated risks in the free agent market in the future. And I hope we still see another move or two in the next few weeks.
    1. stupidloser55's Avatar
      stupidloser55 -
      This off-season has gone about as well as you could hope given their history. I'd love to see Kazmir and Pierzynski under the tree before Christmas too.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Good article.

      I think it is clear that the Twins are getting their stats in order. I refuse to read the comments at the ST, but I can't imagine the general average fan being at all excited about Hughes given the W/L an ERA. Same to a lesser extent about Nolasco. There are some out there who think these moves are simply about "fan pressure" but that is not the case given that most fans are going to not see the potential in these moves.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      but I can't imagine the general average fan being at all excited about Hughes given the W/L an ERA.
      I read Keith Law's article on the move and read a few of the comments.

      The derp is strong with those commenters.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Even if fans don't see the upside, they should at least appreciate the increase in effort.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      I guess if you need to believe this is some new and improved Terry Ryan, nobody can stop you. To me, this is the way he has always done things. I expect they had scouted Nolasco for years, and had probably identified him has a guy who was "better than his numbers". To me, Nolasco is a better version of Correia. He has been durable, pitched reasonably well for mostly poor teams, and might benefit from better team defense than what he got in Florida. He is past his so-called prime, just like Correia, but his durability suggests that he should continue to pitch as he has for at least a couple of more seasons. I don't see a whole lot of upside here, but there is no question he could,throw a pretty darn good year out there. Just like Correia, Ryan probably gave him an extra year he didn't really want to give, but probably couldn't of signed him without it.

      I expect Ryan and his staff identified Nolasco as a better target then E. Santana or anybody else who is likely to land a bigger contract, because they feel Nolasco is more likely to pitch to his previous performance levels, has some small chance of being better than that, and will be more likely to still be worth something at the end of his contract.

      The only difference from what Ryan is doing now to what he did in the past, is the money he has to spend. I don't think his approach as changed at all.
    1. alphanumeric's Avatar
      alphanumeric -
      I don't know what this author is talking about. Hughes has not only exceeded 150 innings twice, he's exceeded 175 IP twice. Check your stats better.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Good article.

      I think it is clear that the Twins are getting their stats in order. I refuse to read the comments at the ST, but I can't imagine the general average fan being at all excited about Hughes given the W/L an ERA. Same to a lesser extent about Nolasco. There are some out there who think these moves are simply about "fan pressure" but that is not the case given that most fans are going to not see the potential in these moves.
      You may be right, or maybe the Twins' scouts just really like Nolasco and Hughes. I'd like to think it's both, but I have no way of knowing.

      What I believe is that these two pitchers are good bets, in fact, for my money, they're better bets than some of the guys who some people are looking at as being in the "top tier" of FA pitchers.

      Given a couple of the comments left over at Knuckleballs following my post there about Nolasco & Hughes, I felt compelled to respond in the comments section there and I'll restate that comment here.

      One year ago, Ubaldo Jimenez was coming off a 9-17 season (career high in losses) and a 5.40 ERA. Ervin Santana was 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA the same year. You’d have been hard pressed to find a Twins fan who wouldn’t have dogged the Twins mercilessly if they had added either pitcher last off-season. This year, those two guys are considered among the top tier of starting pitchers on the market. You think Cleveland and KC wouldn’t love to have the two of them locked up for a couple more years right now?

      People bitch about the Twins “selling low and buying high” on players. They would almost certainly be “buying high” if they went out and signed Jimenez, Santana and even Garza or Tanaka this year.

      Nolasco didn’t break the bank and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if his performance over the term of his contract with the Twins exceeds that of whoever gets stuck paying more money for Jimenez and Santana, certainly, and most likely Garza and Tanaka, as well. Hughes had a bad 2013 (just as Santana had in 2012), but one year earlier, he won 16 games and threw to a 4.23 ERA in that Yankee Stadium band box, totaling 0ver 190 innings of work.

      If you want high-upside value, you don’t pay premium dollars for guys who are coming off their BEST years as they hit free agency, you identify guys who you think might be positioned to perform BETTER than they did in their walk year.

      If Nolasco and Hughes stay healthy, I think Twins fans will be really glad they’re both going to be returning in 2015-2016. And with the relatively affordable contracts, the Twins will still have enough payroll room to add even more (and perhaps better) pitching help next off-season when adding a true impact player could vault them in to legitimate contention.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      The Twins have enough room to add even more(and perhaps better)pitching help NEXT YEAR?
      We are still under last years opening payroll amount , and we havent even used 70% of this years money.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by johnnydakota View Post
      The Twins have enough room to add even more(and perhaps better)pitching help NEXT YEAR?
      We are still under last years opening payroll amount , and we havent even used 70% of this years money.
      I don't disagree that there's still payroll room now. That said, I'm simply not all that in love with a lot of the remaining FA pitchers this year. I liked Kazmir's potential, but he's gone now. I think Arroyo's a significant overpay risk, but for the right price, he'd be fine. A trade for someone that has a contract his team wants to get rid of might be the best shot at further improvements to the rotation. I'm good with spending some money on a catcher.

      I just don't think you spend excessive money for someone you really don't think will be worth it and that's how I feel about most of the guys at the top of the FA list right now. I'd make sure I've got room to add significant payroll at mid-season or, more importantly, next off-season.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      You may be right, or maybe the Twins' scouts just really like Nolasco and Hughes. I'd like to think it's both, but I have no way of knowing.

      What I believe is that these two pitchers are good bets, in fact, for my money, they're better bets than some of the guys who some people are looking at as being in the "top tier" of FA pitchers.

      Given a couple of the comments left over at Knuckleballs following my post there about Nolasco & Hughes, I felt compelled to respond in the comments section there and I'll restate that comment here.

      One year ago, Ubaldo Jimenez was coming off a 9-17 season (career high in losses) and a 5.40 ERA. Ervin Santana was 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA the same year. You’d have been hard pressed to find a Twins fan who wouldn’t have dogged the Twins mercilessly if they had added either pitcher last off-season. This year, those two guys are considered among the top tier of starting pitchers on the market. You think Cleveland and KC wouldn’t love to have the two of them locked up for a couple more years right now?

      People bitch about the Twins “selling low and buying high” on players. They would almost certainly be “buying high” if they went out and signed Jimenez, Santana and even Garza or Tanaka this year.

      Nolasco didn’t break the bank and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if his performance over the term of his contract with the Twins exceeds that of whoever gets stuck paying more money for Jimenez and Santana, certainly, and most likely Garza and Tanaka, as well. Hughes had a bad 2013 (just as Santana had in 2012), but one year earlier, he won 16 games and threw to a 4.23 ERA in that Yankee Stadium band box, totaling 0ver 190 innings of work.

      If you want high-upside value, you don’t pay premium dollars for guys who are coming off their BEST years as they hit free agency, you identify guys who you think might be positioned to perform BETTER than they did in their walk year.

      If Nolasco and Hughes stay healthy, I think Twins fans will be really glad they’re both going to be returning in 2015-2016. And with the relatively affordable contracts, the Twins will still have enough payroll room to add even more (and perhaps better) pitching help next off-season when adding a true impact player could vault them in to legitimate contention.
      Well said...

      Warren Buffett says that you should "buy when there is blood in the streets".

      Or was it Jim Morrison who said that?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      Well said...

      Warren Buffett says that you should "buy when there is blood in the streets".

      Or was it Jim Morrison who said that?
      Haha! JM was "blood in the streets in the town of . . . "
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      You may be right, or maybe the Twins' scouts just really like Nolasco and Hughes. I'd like to think it's both, but I have no way of knowing.

      What I believe is that these two pitchers are good bets, in fact, for my money, they're better bets than some of the guys who some people are looking at as being in the "top tier" of FA pitchers.

      Given a couple of the comments left over at Knuckleballs following my post there about Nolasco & Hughes, I felt compelled to respond in the comments section there and I'll restate that comment here.

      One year ago, Ubaldo Jimenez was coming off a 9-17 season (career high in losses) and a 5.40 ERA. Ervin Santana was 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA the same year. You’d have been hard pressed to find a Twins fan who wouldn’t have dogged the Twins mercilessly if they had added either pitcher last off-season. This year, those two guys are considered among the top tier of starting pitchers on the market. You think Cleveland and KC wouldn’t love to have the two of them locked up for a couple more years right now?

      People bitch about the Twins “selling low and buying high” on players. They would almost certainly be “buying high” if they went out and signed Jimenez, Santana and even Garza or Tanaka this year.

      Nolasco didn’t break the bank and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if his performance over the term of his contract with the Twins exceeds that of whoever gets stuck paying more money for Jimenez and Santana, certainly, and most likely Garza and Tanaka, as well. Hughes had a bad 2013 (just as Santana had in 2012), but one year earlier, he won 16 games and threw to a 4.23 ERA in that Yankee Stadium band box, totaling 0ver 190 innings of work.

      If you want high-upside value, you don’t pay premium dollars for guys who are coming off their BEST years as they hit free agency, you identify guys who you think might be positioned to perform BETTER than they did in their walk year.

      If Nolasco and Hughes stay healthy, I think Twins fans will be really glad they’re both going to be returning in 2015-2016. And with the relatively affordable contracts, the Twins will still have enough payroll room to add even more (and perhaps better) pitching help next off-season when adding a true impact player could vault them in to legitimate contention.
      Bang-up post, Jim. You outlined exactly why I'm lauding the acquisitions of Hughes and Nolasco while I would have groaned had the Twins signed Santana. Garza is somewhere in the middle.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Bang-up post, Jim. You outlined exactly why I'm lauding the acquisitions of Hughes and Nolasco while I would have groaned had the Twins signed Santana. Garza is somewhere in the middle.
      I agree on Garza. With him, what I'd be concerned about wouldn't be so much the annual pay, but the years he may be able to command right now. Nolasco's deal is on the outer edges (or past them) of what I feel comfortable giving any pitcher in terms of years, but at least the money involved with him is far less than it's likely to be with Garza.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I agree on Garza. With him, what I'd be concerned about wouldn't be so much the annual pay, but the years he may be able to command right now. Nolasco's deal is on the outer edges (or past them) of what I feel comfortable giving any pitcher in terms of years, but at least the money involved with him is far less than it's likely to be with Garza.
      Yeah. It's easier to swallow four years if the annual pay is around $12m.

      But when you up that annual salary to ~$16-17m and add a fifth year, it gets a lot harder to justify the contract for a pitcher of Garza's ability and age.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Yeah. It's easier to swallow four years if the annual pay is around $12m.

      But when you up that annual salary to ~$16-17m and add a fifth year, it gets a lot harder to justify the contract for a pitcher of Garza's ability and age.
      Then again, it's not my money, so why should I care if the Twins want to spend it?

      The only thing that should concern us about a big, long-term, contract to Garza would be the possibility that it would end up preventing the Twins from having that money 4-6 years down the road to spend on something else/better if Garza does tank before the contract is up.

      It's pretty hard for me to imagine that becoming a problem during the next half dozen years. The Twins won't need to pay any new internal players obscene money until Sano and Buxton at least get in to arbitration years or closer to free agency and by that time, Mauer's contract will be about to come off the books.

      That being the case, one could argue that if the Twins were ever going to be in a place where they can afford to take a chance on "bad" 5-6 year contracts, now is that time.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      The only thing that should concern us about a big, long-term, contract to Garza would be the possibility that it would end up preventing the Twins from having that money 4-6 years down the road to spend on something else/better if Garza does tank before the contract is up.

      It's pretty hard for me to imagine that becoming a problem during the next half dozen years. The Twins won't need to pay any new internal players obscene money until Sano and Buxton at least get in to arbitration years or closer to free agency and by that time, Mauer's contract will be about to come off the books.
      That's my primary concern. Not all roster issues need to be taken care of in one offseason.

      Say the Twins sign Nolasco and Garza and Buxton, Arcia, Sano, et al don't really come into their own until 2016/2017 and at that point, both Garza and Nolasco are either declining or flat-out awful and injured.

      So you're looking at the core of a team who is young, cheap, and very good but you can't really make a push for a ring because you have $50m committed to three mid-30s players in Mauer, Nolasco, and Garza... Some or all of which might be bad, injured, or both in 2017.

      To me, that's just not smart baseball management. There are good free agents available every offseason. There's no reason to go out and commit all your long-term money when the core players aren't ready to compete.

      Keep some flexibility in your pocket for when you see an opening to not only get to the playoffs, but win.

      Sign guys like Nolasco and Hughes this offeason. Next offseason, check in again and see where the franchise stands. React accordingly. Continue to do this until you know what you really have and what you really need to win it all.

      I want the Twins to be good for 5+ years, not 2-3.
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      I don't disagree with you at all, Brock. You simply don't know for sure what your needs will be next year or the year after that, so you need payroll flexibility.

      My point was just that, if you look at the old "52% of revenues for payroll" model, it's hard for me to see why the Twins signing a guy like Garza now would necessarily keep them from still having that flexibility going forward. Of course, given the past couple of years' experience, with payroll running closer to 35% of revenues than 52%, there's every reason to question whether the Twins would see things the same way.

      I think it's a moot point anyway. The only way the Twins would sign Garza at this point is if they feel they really NEED him. I can't imagine they feel that way.
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      Twins need to improve to keep attendance from dropping. Say it drops below 2 million which is 700,000 less than 2013 that would mean what $30 million less in revenues?
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