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These Ain't Your Old Twins

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

Because baseball fans in general are becoming increasingly analytic 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 whomever 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 up. 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.

Obviously 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.

Name:  philhughes.jpg
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Size:  67.8 KBThe 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 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 it.
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