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  • On Terry Ryan, Truth And Gravity

    In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M Pirsig dwells on a topic about which we often argue at Twins Daily: Truth. (*1) Given a finite amount of data – and there is always only a finite amount of data – the human imagination is capable of creating an infinite number of explanations for what that data shows. But ultimately, one strikes us as The Truth. It can feel like an epiphany, an absolute. But it’s really just the prettiest of the explanations of which we can conceive.

    This is true even for scientific facts, like gravity (*2). It's even more true when there is less observable data, like say, watching the moves of your favorite baseball team's front office. We can speculate from the outside, but odds are the truths we think we've found are the truths that appeal to us and are likely to change.

    My experience is that even when the people involved tell you The Truth, it's of limited value. They likely don't want to tell you the whole truth. It may even be that they don't understand it themselves.

    At the press conference where the Twins introduced Ricky Nolasco, Terry Ryan was asked about whether the Twins philosophy is changing towards free agency. He replied that he didn't think so (*3), that they had always said that they would utilize free agency when it was appropriate, and this was certainly appropriate. He implied the difference was that they now had the resources.

    That's a fine explanation, one that certainly can pass as The Truth for a limited set of facts. But there are other facts it doesn't explain. And the top one is that the Twins were in the exact same situation last year, and risked just $15 million on two pitchers, instead of the $73 million (and maybe more, soon) that they have already spent this year. In fact, last year, they under-spent their budget by $20 million.

    This additional data point can also be explained an infinite number of ways. For instance,
    1) Maybe an extra year of losing added more urgency.
    2) Maybe last year the increase in prices surprised the Twins.
    3) Maybe Ryan just wasn't accustomed to having money to spend.
    4) Maybe they just like Nolasco and Phil Hughes more than any pitchers last year.
    5) Maybe someone new in the front office gained influence and convinced the organization to spend the money.
    6) Maybe someone above Terry Ryan in the Twins hierarchy convinced him to spend the money.

    Or maybe the philosophy changed. Whichever truth you choose depends on which additional events you choose to include, and which explanation you find most appealing.


    (*1)Actually, Robert M. Persig dwells on a lot of things, and they’re all wrapped inside an intriguing and somewhat gut-wrenching story that I should really re-read. And which you should too. It’s the offseason. Trust me on this one.

    (*2)You might have trouble, even in the Twins Daily forums, arguing against gravity. But before Isaac Newton, people noticed that stuff tended to fall to earth. The accepted Truth was that objects had an “earthly nature” that made them return to earth. It wasn’t until Newton came along and started talking about the other heavenly bodies and how they were holding other objects in orbit, and creating formulas for how quickly things fell to earth, that the idea of gravity sunk in.

    For the record, those previous “nature” ideas weren’t proposed by some dummy. This was Aristotlian (as in Aristotle) Physics. It was the truth for nearly two thousand years because it made sense to everyone. We accept gravity because it made even more sense once we started realizing the earth wasn’t the center of the universe.

    And we might well throw it aside – and Albert Einstein already did as part of general relativity. Which, by the way, has been modified several times by various theories. Einstein doesn't have all matter attracting other matter. Rather, matter curves spacetime, bending objects in motion towards itself. And with that insufficient teaser, I and my one trimester of physics are disentangling ourselves from this explanation.

    Instead, I choose to focus on this: we are talking about something that most would consider scientific fact, and yet every few hundred years, it’s modified as we recognize a different explanation as "truth" for why that apple falls on your head. They all explain the apple. But the one we accept at different times extends from additional facts and observations and is eventually adopted as the cleanest explanation. If scientific fact is that malleable, how absolute is any truth?

    (*3) The question was asked by Wally Langfellow of Minnesota Score magazine. Here was Ryan's entire reply:

    “No, I don’t think so Wally. This isn’t a change in philosophy. We’ve always said, if we need to do something. Now we have the resources to do it; there’s no doubt. If we were still in the Metrodome, this probably wouldn’t happen. But we’re in Target Field. We’ve got more revenue and resources, certainly. This is a nice opportunity. We need pitching. We went out and got it.

    As people recall, we tried to retain [Johan] Santana or retain Torii Hunter. To some extent, we just didn’t have the wherewithal. We would not hesitate to jump into free agency. I don’t think it’s the greatest path, because it is risky. We all know that. Free agency is not the answer. It’s a help and a supplement to a roster. But if you’re relying on free agency year-in and year-out, it’s not gonna work.

    Now we’re in a situation where we need help. We need immediate help. And this is the reason Ricky is sitting here. But I don’t see this as a big change. Yeah, this is a nice contract for any player. But we’ve given out contracts of sizable worth and that lad over there on that poster [Ryan points to a picture of Joe Mauer] is a good example. He’s making a lot of money. We’re not afraid to do it, provided we get the right fit.”
    This article was originally published in blog: On Terry Ryan, Truth And Gravity started by John Bonnes
    Comments 111 Comments
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      I think citing th efforts to sign Johan and Torii makes for a funny, unintended contrast. Yeah....they "tried" in the most minimalistic way possible.

      The actions have changed significantly, but I doubt you'd ever hear Ryan admit the philosophy changed. He might not even be aware it has.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Fantastic article, John. We have all preconceptions of what the front office believes and what motivates their actions. In reality, those preconceptions have as much, if not more, to do with our own mental state than they have to do with the actual front office. It's something every fan should keep in mind before they unmercilessly blast the front office or rationalize every action taken by it.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Great read
      Got to argue about one thing though:

      This is even true for scientific facts, like gravity (*2).
      (*2)You might have trouble, even in the Twins Daily forums, arguing against gravity. But before Isaac Newton, people noticed that stuff tended to fall to earth. The accepted Truth was that objects had an “earthly nature” that made them return to earth. It wasn’t until Newton came along and started talking about the other heavenly bodies and how they were holding objects in orbit, and creating formulas for how quickly things fell to earth, that the idea of gravity sunk in.

      For the record, those previous “nature” ideas weren’t proposed by some dummy. This was Aristotlian (as in Aristotle) Physics. It was the truth for nearly two thousand years because it made sense to everyone. We accept gravity because it made even more sense once we started realizing the earth wasn’t the center of the universe.
      What you call "scientific facts" above, you describe as "commonly perceived truth" below
      Different things. And every scientist will tell you that there is not such a thing as a "scientific fact". Just suggestions and likelihoods, that why every scientific paper and thesis is full with expressions such as "the data suggests...", "it likely..." etc, but not absolutes, because as you say, truth is:

      just the prettiest of the explanations
      or the one that might fit the data you have the best, unless you discover something else...

      (and one's got to argue that Ryan's explanations up there are not that pretty.)

      But in the case in hand, the data suggests that Ryan for some reason is trying to make two conflicting situations (a. our philosophy is not to sign free agents because that is a bandaid aka a "bad thing" aka a "square peg", and b. let's go out and sign a bunch because this is what we need to do to improve the team, aka a "good thing" aka a "round hole") match.

      And they can with a very single explanation (aka the "truth"), that I really wish Ryan had the fortitude to go out and tell people:

      A. The best way to build a sustainable contender is mainly through the draft and international free agency, supplementing the major league team with strategically placed free agents and refreshing your talent pipeline with minor league talent you get by selling stars high (aka the MacPhail way)

      A1. The Twins as a team screwed up in this for a while.

      B. Thus, in order to compete in the near future, we have to go out and get free agents.

      But you got to have the fortitude to publicly admit A1 (i.e. that you have failed) for A and B to mesh...

      That's what I see as the most likely explanation here
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Nice article, John. But I question your statement that the top "fact" is that the Twins were in the exact same situation last year. It seems reasonable to conclude, based on Ryan's quote here, that he might dispute this. So much of why some of us cut Ryan more slack and others are harshly critical stems from our amazing ability to see the "facts" so differently, or to create a fact set that supports our agenda.

      Regardless, it sure is nice to witness the "fact" that Ryan admits to having resources, admits to having opportunities, and admits to being in the right time to act.
    1. Tibs's Avatar
      Tibs -
      My opinion on not spending money last year is maybe Terry Ryan knew we were a well below average team with lots of holes to fill and didn't think it was time to spend money with our top prospects even farther away than they are now. Who were the top free agent pitchers last year? The free agent signings I remember didn't do very well for their teams.
    1. eLee612's Avatar
      eLee612 -
      "The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling."

      Great book, and great post!

      As Thrylos noted, science doesn't provide facts. It yields correlations, p values, significant (or not so significant) effects… all of which are affected by sample size, validity and reliability of design, etc. But when it comes down to it, we - the general public - either buy it or we don't, regardless of how strong the evidence is. As you said, we choose the explanation that is most appealing.

      I'm not sure if Ryan's free agent philosophy has truly changed, nor am I sure I 'truly' care at this point. I think the additions we've made were a) smart, and b) have potential, and I'm looking forward to watching them play out.

      "The solutions are all simple - after you have arrived at them. But they're simple only when you know already what they are."


    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      I just don't think he saw the talent or opportunities to improve the team last year. Other than Sanchez and Grienke, it was pretty weak.

      I do think he blew moving Willingham last off season though, if he felt the team wasn't going to improve last year then he really should have sold high on him after the year he had, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a player who was not going to be a part of this teams next run.

      Having said that, I don't really know whether he tried to make that happen but didn't like what he was hearing.
    1. Blackjack's Avatar
      Blackjack -
      I'll probably get lambasted for this but I have to disagree, I was assigned 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' in a college novel class, it was horrible, I love to read but I couldn't finish it. If I found a copy at a garage sale I would buy it, take it home, and have a book burning party. Then again I can't understand the facination with the 'The Great Gatsby' either, twice I was assigned to read it, slogged thru it but wouldn't recommend it to anybody.

      I think TR is spending some money because he realizes that the 'cash cow' called Target Field is going to dry up if they don't try to put a winning team on the field. Fans will just stop going to games, less $8 beers and $10 sandwiches sold.
    1. Craig in MN's Avatar
      Craig in MN -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      And they can with a very single explanation (aka the "truth"), that I really wish Ryan had the fortitude to go out and tell people:

      A. The best way to build a sustainable contender is mainly through the draft and international free agency, supplementing the major league team with strategically placed free agents and refreshing your talent pipeline with minor league talent you get by selling stars high (aka the MacPhail way)

      A1. The Twins as a team screwed up in this for a while.

      B. Thus, in order to compete in the near future, we have to go out and get free agents.
      This is absolutely Terry Ryan's thought process on the matter, and it confuses me that people who really pay attention to the Twins don't get this. Terry Ryan was always willing to sign big contracts, just not a ton, and not all escalating at the same time, because he values having flexibility for next year. He's always been willing to sign some free agents that fills a void, just not such that it backs him into corner in the future payroll obligations. He made offers to Santana and Hunter, but he couldn't comfortably commit that much and still have the flexibility he wants.

      But he's never been in a situation over the past couple years where he's never had ANY young, in-house players to re-sign, or plan to re-sign. He's never had such financial flexibility in the coming years as he has today, because there's been nobody in-house to extend. There has never even been remotely close to this small amount of future obligations.

      So he has money to spend. A lot of us might think of that as an opportunity, but Ryan considers that a failure...a failure of Plan A. Plan B is to do the next best thing and sign some notable free agents, but to try to get back to Plan A as fast as he can...by developing more young, good players to extend, instead of going to free agency next time. He's right.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Blackjack View Post
      I'll probably get lambasted for this but I have to disagree, I was assigned 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' in a college novel class, it was horrible, I love to read but I couldn't finish it. If I found a copy at a garage sale I would buy it, take it home, and have a book burning party. Then again I can't understand the facination with the 'The Great Gatsby' either, twice I was assigned to read it, slogged thru it but wouldn't recommend it to anybody.
      Or War and Peace or The Iliad. All those books were great for the time they were written in the context of the time they were written. When Zen and the Art was written this country was in a war that brought a whole bunch of people who did not want to go there back either in body bags or in mental incapacitation and was losing a war for the first time, its president was about to resign before he was impeached, and the thread of a nuclear world war III was very strong.

      Great time to question truth.

      Fast forward 40 years and things have changed (maybe.)
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Whoa, a reference to a fantastic philosophy book (mainstreamish, but that is what it essentially is) and to Aristotle, John? You had me at hello . . .
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I think it is funny that at least one poster has stated he knows the truth already......

      McPhail had no problem handing out huge (for the time) free agent contracts. Ryan never did until this year.

      We really have no idea what has or has not changed. What we do know is that instead of dumpster diving, TR has decided to spend real money this year. We should all be thankful for whatever caused that to happen, and hope it continues.

      Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is both a good and bad book, imo. I enjoyed reading it, but I read it when I was in a spot where thinking about important stuff was important to me. I remember wondering about some of the writing, but mostly I remember it making me think.

      Maybe we should have a book thread someplace around here.....
    1. ND-Fan's Avatar
      ND-Fan -
      I think business side of Twins finally got through to ownership that slow rebuild was not in the best interest of Twins brand and financial health of the Team. I think Twins have been doing internal evaluations and saw what loosing can do to revenue streams for baseball team. A prime example of this is Seattle where attendance has dropped 50% since they opened there new field in Seattle ten years ago. So now to get their brand back up they are buying players like Cano at very high prices and a lot of risk to the organization. Baseball has changed for Terry in that things have speeded up in that slow rebuild is two to three years not like they did in 90's where it took nearly 10 years to put a winner back on the field. The risk also has gone up and that's why there's such more money being spent on analytical side of baseball with saber metrics as well as scouting and wheel and dealing of players to maximize performance.
      I think Terry will adapt to this change and Pohlads have been good employers in that continue to keep people in positions if they are willing to adapt and change with organization philosophy. I also think Pohlads are changing as owners also they have been hiring internal studies to how to adapt this organization to compete and remain competitive year in year out. The bottom line for them is too remain profitable and continue to grow brand name Twins so it has more value each year. With this Brand name increasing in value it lets Pohlad family gain business with ever more businesses and crosses over into their other businesses ever increasing the empire they have built.
      Terry is right that spending totally on free agency to build club is disaster waiting to happen unless your one of couple of franchises with unlimited funding and even these organization are running into trouble if they don't develop their own players also. I believe NY is becoming example of this its getting harder and harder to fill their needs with FA and payroll with luxury tax has begun to even the playing field some. Its teams like Boston and ST. Louis that have used FA to fill needs that they have failed to do so with their farm system. The Twins failure these past three seasons is from reaction of FA when Twins lost key players to Free Agency or were about to loose players to Free Agency. They made series of Trades in which Twins lost talent and received little in return in the final end. Also their development players wasn't there either because of some bad luck or I also believe their unwillingness to spend more money on top line draft picks which had changed with some smaller market teams willing to spend more money here than on Free Agency. Some this has gone away now with new caps put in place by baseball. Because if you look now some of better prospects the Twins have now is because they did spend money like Sano signing.

      I do believe that Terry Ryan does feel pressure of getting talent back on the field and putting somewhat competitive team for this coming year. I also think its been harder this year because Free Agents don't believe they are close enough to be winners again and my guess were a lot closer to being a winning team that we think. Its just matter getting right talent assembled with prospects coming up and i also think we need to get a little lucky in that players start to also believe in that they can win.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Terry says...If we are still in the dome these 2 signings ,probally dont happen?
      Why ? wasnt our payroll in 2009 about the same as it is now 79 million?
      and if you add in inflation at about 40% arent we at about 50 million in dome dollars.
      Using owner Jim Pohlads restrictions of 50-54% of the teams income, shouldnt we have a payroll of 128.5 - 135 million this year?
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      It's been almost 40 years since I read the book (and wrote some paper on it applying the ideas to something else -- all of which I've totally forgotten).

      But the older I get, the less I believe in any one truth. In any situation, there are a myriad of factors that come into play. It's why, so often as human beings, we seem to be speaking out of both sides of our mouths. We just react differently to different people, ideas and situations.

      I think you could highlight a number of John's reasons and they would be part of why we are seeing what we are seeing and include in that fact that there was $25m in "free money" (so to speak) from the TV deal. TR didn't even spend all of that annual TV money on Nolasco and Hughes (I think this would appeal to TR's conservative side). Add in a green light from his owner to spend plus (I would guess) some impetus from both the business AND baseball sides (underlings plus field staff) to improve the club (I think TR probably felt some guilt about the crappy hand he dealt Gardenhire last year).

      I don't see an organizational shift in philosophy. Under TR, the Twins are always going to build from the farm system but I think last year showed that some of those prospects may be a little farther away than we think. I believe that keeping that farm system mostly intact is important to TR and that's why he seems reluctant to make trades this season (and actually sounds a little more reluctant now than he did when the off-season started). He is able to hold onto the core philosophy of building the farm and club from within -- while, hopefully, satisfying his bosses (plus underlings, fans and media) just by risking some monetary resources. If you had the green light to do that, why wouldn't you?
    1. Dman's Avatar
      Dman -
      It is interesting how putting together various statistics, life experience, and observation we can build a case for our perception of how things are or what they should be. I am glad that we do though because the diversity of opinion makes me look at things differently and quite frankly is a lot of fun. In the end none of us are typically right about what TR thinks but it is fun to talk about.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      The Star Trek Next Generation episode on lenses/perspective/truth where Riker is accused of murder is a great episode to watch for a philosophical view on truth (remember when TV used to have philosophical discussions?).
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      The Star Trek Next Generation episode on lenses/perspective/truth where Riker is accused of murder is a great episode to watch for a philosophical view on truth (remember when TV used to have philosophical discussions?).
      I remember when it had awesome sci-fi too!
    1. Major Leauge Ready's Avatar
      Major Leauge Ready -
      I think people need to put in perspective that until 2010, the Twins were a small market team. Revenues were just slightly above TB, OAK, and KC. So, it makes no sense to complain about the Twins no spending in the past. It also makes no sense to draw comparisons to Kirby’s contract and ask why we could award the largest contract at that time. The financial metrics are very different today. And, the same people who use this argument somehow fail to recognize the Twins signed Joe Mauer to a much longer term deal @ $23M/yr or 7.66X Kirby's annual amount.

      The bottom line is the Twins have generally spent the available budget on talent. We have had one year (last year) where TR opted to not spend on the available talent. He was crucified here any many went off on how much better Marcum, Dempsey, Saunders, Jackson, etc would have been. Well, who was right? People still cursed the not spending even after it was proven that those acquisitions would have been detrimental to the team. Many seemed to completely ignore this fact. Success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan. For some, there is a spend every available penny no matter what edict. Given we are talking about long-term contracts, that is a very ill-conceived strategy. IMO, this is the root of much of the discontent.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Major Leauge Ready View Post
      He was crucified here any many went off on how much better Marcum, Dempsey, Saunders, Jackson, etc would have been. Well, who was right?
      We were. We were right

      Row Labels Sum of IP Average of ERA Average of FIP Average of xFIP Average of WAR
      Marcum,Dempster,Saunders,Jackson 607.30 5.03 4.21 4.13 1.28
      Albers,Walters,Gibson,Hendriks,Hernandez,Worley,De Vries 316.60 6.89 5.59 5.05 -0.01
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