Quick, what’s your memory of Kevin Slowey? Probably a gopher ball-prone soft-tossing righthander with impeccable control. You probably remember him irritating some people within the clubhouse with his attitude and that he complained about being a reliever during his final season in Minnesota. Finally, the guy was crazy-smart. This article from 2009 has former pitching coach Rick Anderson touting Slowey as the second-smartest player on the team behind Craig Breslow. This one claimed that Slowey scored a 1420 on his SAT. Pretty bright fellow, it seemed.
However, during the Ron Gardenhire era it seemed that the organization didn’t really embrace the cerebral player, probably due to the fact that they stuck out like a sore thumb. Granted, we’re talking about half a decade ago and times have changed, both for the Twins and in MLB. Though the rest of baseball has progressed at a much faster rate that the Twins organization, the team still has seen some progress lately. Paul Molitor was hired as manager and his presence led to an increase in defensive shifts. Glen Perkins is a fan of sabermetrics, pitchF/X (he cited his use of Brooks Baseball, a pitchF/X website, to give himself feedback of his pitches), and also admitted that he started throwing more high fastballs to combat hitters (I can’t find evidence for that statement, however).
Additionally, the Twins brought back Breslow on a minor league contract this winter. I feel contractually obligated to point out his Yale degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, but that’s not the reason why I’m mentioning him again. Rather, it was his work this offseason that led to his reunion with the Twins. Breslow has struggled over the past few years and without some tinkering, his career was on its last breath. He purchased the Rapsodo pitch tracker and went to work on fixing his pitching approach.
In a nutshell, Rapsodo uses a high-speed camera and radar to track the movement and spin rate of pitches. While messing with his arm angle, Breslow discovered that he could increase his velocity and pitch movement by dropping down to a near-sidearm release point. It turned out that his experimentation caught the eye of Derek Falvey, who as we know went on to sign Breslow.
This isn’t all about Breslow, though. The Twins made a very low-profile signing this weekend, though my memory tells me that it had been rumored for weeks. The name might not mean anything to you, but the story of Seth Rosin should pique your interest. Rosin is a Mounds View High School graduate that has six career major league innings from 2014-2015 on his ledger split between the Rangers and Phillies. The 28-year old spent last season in the Padres organization but threw less than nine innings over the entire year (unfortunately I’m unable to find any injury news for him). Clearly looking for answers, Rosin ended up at Driveline Baseball near Seattle.
Driveline touts itself as being “driven by data” and if you follow the Twitter account of founder Kyle Boddy, this is most certainly true. Driveline strives to eschew the traditional mindset of coaching, most notably with their weighted baseball program. Long believed to be detrimental to arm health, Driveline’s research demonstrated that it wasn’t the program but rather the implementation that was harmful. Instead, their research has shown that the weighted ball set can help add velocity, correct flawed mechanics, and reduce the risk of injury. Insert Rosin, who joined an rapidly-growing group of baseball players that have flocked to Driveline to make themselves better baseball players.
Rosin isn’t the only pitcher in the Twins organization that has followed Driveline’s instruction as lefty Ryan O’Rourke also was in contact with Boddy and Driveline throughout the winter. In Phil Miller’s linked article there, O’Rourke admits that he used weighted baseballs last year and throughout the offseason to maintain his arm strength and was satisfied with the results. Plus, there’s whatever you want to call this from Kyle Gibson.
Okay, he actually is doing that goofy-looking routine to help keep his back and shoulder healthy, but that too is another workout that we hadn’t seen in the past. Long story short, whether it’s due to technological advances, the addition of Derek Falvey, or just simply developing an open mind, the Twins have started to embrace that there’s more to pitching than just keeping the ball down and hitting the corners. Perhaps these new methods will pay dividends this season as the Twins look to get themselves out of the cellar of the AL Central.