When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over the Minnesota Twins two years ago, us fans were curious to see how the organization would change. Initially, the revisions were rather small. Jason Castro was signed, a catcher that excelled in pitch framing. A couple coaches were swapped out. It wasn’t much, and thus many argued that the “boy geniuses” were in over their heads and weren’t going to succeed in righting the ship.
However, the vehicle has kicked into gear this offseason. With the firing of manager Paul Molitor, that has brought in Rocco Baldelli from the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Anyone associated with the Rays comes from a culture of innovation, where “the opener” first came into existence and the team somehow won 90 games in a difficult AL East while also holding a fire sale at the July 31st trade deadline. They also brought in Wes Johnson, the pitching coach from the University of Arkansas and “czar of velocity.” Jeremy Hefner, who had already been working as a video scout for the Twins, was promoted to assistant pitching coach. Additionally, to bridge the gap between the native English-speaking staff and the Latin-born players, Tony Diaz was hired from the Colorado Rockies.
Just a couple weeks ago, I said that a new organizational philosophy was taking shape for the Twins. That principle suggested it was okay to not know everything in your particular field, as evidenced by hitting coach James Rowson suggesting nonsensical ideas to his hitters just to get them to challenge his expertise. Now, I see another piece of the puzzle falling into place with the shuffling of the coaching staff.
By all accounts, Molitor was a willing disciple of the analytical side of baseball. Platoons were used, defenses were shifted, relievers were starting ballgames. However, Molitor seemed to be a passive follower of these ideas, merely implementing what was suggested to him from the front office. Consider Johnson, who installed TrackMan monitors to measure his pitchers’ pitch movement, release point, spin rate, and more. While coaching in the college ranks, he discovered that the “repeatable delivery” mantra was overblown and that having a constant release point was more important for success. (Anecdotally, I heard about a year or two ago that this is why Clayton Kershaw has been such a good pitcher in the majors.)
Johnson revealed in the interview with Whole Hog Sports that the use of TrackMan allowed him to collect objective data for a job that long had been ruled by subjective evidence. He actively sought out how to make his players better without sticking just to the “tried and true” methods of the past. While I can’t speak for Diaz’s coaching philosophies, I do know that he authored the book, “Practical English for Latin Players.” Its significance to me - in addition to fulfilling Baldelli’s desire of having another native Spanish speaker on the staff - is that Diaz took the initiative to create a manual to help his players adapt to a new culture.
That, along with Johnson’s work at Arkansas, show me that Falvey and Levine had a goal in mind with their latest hires. Recall at his introductory press conference when Falvey said that he wanted “evidence-based decision-making” within the organization. Now we’re seeing that come to light, and we can even go a step further in that he and Levine sought out coaches that have shown ingenuity in their work.
Regardless of the personnel on the field for the 2019 season, it’s clear that the staff in the dugout and behind the scenes will be working nonstop to seek the next edge over opposing teams for the upcoming season. It’s for this reason that I’m starting to feel confident that Falvey and Levine will return the organization back to playoff contention in the near future.