Last week, I linked to a post by Joe Posnanski about the Oakland Athletics. The book Moneyball was written over a decade ago, but since then the A's have continued to succeed in spite of their secrets being spilled to the world. In his article, Posnanski said that the Athletics have kept their winning ways not necessarily by using sabermetrics like in 2002, but rather by avoiding the mistakes that other teams make.
Posnanski later compared the Athletics to the Kansas City Royals, pointing out that the Royals drafted local prep outfielder Bubba Starling a few years ago. He had a ton of power, speed, and athleticism, but his plate discipline was terrible. This year at High-A for the Royals, he's batting .188/.286/.295 as a 21-year old.
Some of Starling's struggles could be expected. Google "Bubba Starling scouting report" and the top three hits all contain the same word: "raw" (Scouting Book, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospect Nation). We've heard that word tossed around all the time when it comes to draftees. It signals that the player has plenty of potential, but is unpolished. If you want the exact definition of raw, think of Carlos Gomez while he was with the Twins. He had all 5 tools, but just couldn't put it all together. He was caught in between being a speedster and a slugger, a guy that would bunt for hits but also swung out of his shoes. It wasn't until after he joined the Milwaukee Brewers that everything finally clicked and he became the star that he is today.
Teams often draft the raw players because despite the added risk, they also carry a much higher reward. The Royals took an extremely raw player in Starling. Meanwhile, the A's preferred to go for the players that were safer bets, the ones that actually could control the strike zone, whether as a position player or pitcher. Posnanski specifically mentioned pitcher Tommy Milone, a soft-tossing lefty that the A's received in the Gio Gonzalez trade with the Nationals. In some ways, Milone was the prototypical Twins pitcher in that he didn't walk anyone. However, he also generated plenty of strikeouts despite averaging about 86 MPH with his fastball. Since his debut in 2011, Milone has a career 3.88 ERA, perfectly acceptable for a mid-rotation starter.
Now, drafting the raw players doesn't really apply to the Twins. In fact, they're almost to the extreme in the other direction, where they would always take the sure bets, the fast-track players that would only take a couple years in the minor leagues. That's how they ended up with Alex Wimmers, after all. Recently, the Twins have started taking more of those projects that will require a little more time and patience, in the hopes that the payoff is much greater.
Now, I have to piggyback off of Posnanski's main point in his articles. The A's are a proactive team. They know what to expect and act accordingly. Meanwhile teams like the Twins are reactive, where they wait to see what happens and then adjust. Here's an example. First baseman Brandon Moss was an important piece of the 2008 Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay three-team trade between the Pirates, Dodgers, and Red Sox, except Moss just didn't hit after joining the Pirates. He fell into obscurity until the Athletics saw him tearing apart Triple-A and gave him a second chance in 2012.
Moss' shortcoming was that he couldn't hit lefties. The A's love to platoon, and decided that Moss would bat almost exclusively against righties to protect him from his weakness. Moss responded by hitting .291/.358/.596 with 21 home runs in roughly half a season. 78% of his at-bats that year were against righties.
Moss batted .293 against lefties in 2012, and I bet most teams would think that meant he knew how to hit lefties and would give him the opportunity to prove himself. Not the A's, though. In 2013, he took 82% of his at-bats against righties. He hit .200 against lefties that year.
Now this season, Moss is once again hitting lefties well, though he's still seeing righties in 80% of his plate appearances. Simply put, it doesn't matter how Moss performs against LHP to the Athletics. It's his weakness, and they don't want other teams to exploit it.
It's this type of attitude that I wish the Twins would adopt. Don't be reactive to how a player performs, you should be proactive. The A's were proactive with Moss. Who cares that he hit .293 against LHP in 2012? It's likely not sustainable, and should be treated as such. Who cares that he's hitting lefties better than righties this season? He's still facing them in only 20% of his at-bats. The Athletics know that if they put too much faith into Moss against southpaws, he'll start to struggle.
Meanwhile, the Twins are the reactive team. They look for hot streaks in players. That's why Danny Santana has had so much playing time lately. Never mind that he has a .473 batting average on balls in play, a number unsustainable for even the major league superstars. He's getting hits in bunches and thus has earned more playing time. There will likely be a slump coming Santana's way, and it's going to hurt when that happens.
Now, you may argue that Santana is a better player than Aaron Hicks at the moment and that he deserves more playing time. In that case, I absolutely agree. But this proactive vs. reactive argument stretches beyond Santana. How about Kevin Correia? Yeah, he pitched well last season even though many of us were certain his 2-year contract was a mistake. But expecting him to carry it through this season was a reactive response. A proactive response would have seen his poor strikeout numbers and lucky strand rate and cut bait as soon as possible. Instead, Correia continues to derp through the rotation while Alex Meyer and Trevor May await in the minors.
Then there's Matt Guerrier. It's a similar story to Correia's 2013, where he's not striking out many hitters but is having success. However, Guerrier's success is coming from a lack of home runs allowed. In fact, there have been none. Because it appears like Matty's been pitching well, he was allowed to start the 9th inning against the Blue Jays on Monday night in a tie game. He gave up a leadoff walk, and then Casey Fien allowed two singles to lose the game.
There is no way that Guerrier is a better pitcher than Fien, and yet he was allowed to start the inning instead. That was a reactive response. The proactive response would have been that Fien starts the inning because he's simply better. An even more proactive response would be to recognize that Guerrier is keeping Michael Tonkin in the minor leagues, where he's currently dominating.
Posnanski has a line in his "The Oakland Way" piece that I feel is extremely critical, and a line the Twins have constantly ignored: "Optimism is not a strategy." Don't assume that you know what will happen next. We're getting really optimistic with Danny Santana as a hitter, but he's definitely not this good. Matt Guerrier should not be this good. Kevin Correia is not as good as he showed last year.
The Twins need to change this philosophy, especially if they're going to continue being a mid-market team. They can't keep making the same mistakes over and over where they believe in certain players that will inevitably let them down. When that changes (the Kendrys Morales signing was a step in the right direction), that could be the thing that pushes them over the top and back into being a real contender.