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The real reason Minnesota added Matt Shoemaker

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Players named “Matt” are a key piece of the Twins strategy

Cleveland Ohio 9/15/02 Twins vs Cleveland----Twins DH Matt LeCroy celebrates at home after hitting a sac fly soreing Cristian Guzman in the 6th inning.

In case you missed the news, the Twins added free agent pitcher Matt Shoemaker earlier this week. Shoemaker is expected to compete for a spot in the starting rotation after struggling with injuries the past few seasons.

Twinkie Town was able to catch up with Twins’ decision makers Derek Falvey and Thad Levine about their thinking in bringing Shoemaker aboard. While the baseball bosses pointed to several encouraging statistics and data points that they liked about Shoemaker, Falvey divulged the surprising real reason the club aggressively pursued the free agent.

“It was getting pretty late in the offseason and we hadn’t been able to add a “Matt” to the 2021 club… if I’m being honest, that was the real driver in this signing,” Falvey told Twinkie Town. “We made a tough call when we non-tendered Wisler. We knew that was a big risk because this free agent class doesn’t have that many Matts. We needed to add one but there weren’t that many good fits.”

Sensing our puzzlement, Levine expanded.

“You know we rely on data and evidence in our transactions. Our proprietary internal analysis has identified that Twins teams that have had a “Matt” on the roster have performed better than those that haven’t and that players with that name tend to be undervalued in free agency.”

Twinkie Town research ran the numbers and corroborated Levine’s claim about the Twins’ success with players named Matt. Over the past 20 seasons, 17 Twins teams have included at least one player named Matt. In those seasons, Minnesota has a 1,387—1,266 win-loss record (.523 winning percentage). In the other three seasons — those sans a Matt — the Twins have played to a 208—278 record (.428 winning percentage).

Besides Wisler and Shoemaker, available free agents named Matt this winter included starter Matt Moore (signed with Philadelphia), relievers Matt Andriese (signed with Boston), Matt Magill (signed with Seattle), Matt Harvey (signed with Baltimore), Matt Bowman (signed with New York Yankees), catcher Matt Wieters, corner defenders/DHs Matt Kemp, Matt Adams, and Matt Joyce (signed with Philadelphia), and utility man Matt Duffy (signed with Chicago Cubs).

Levine commented on those free agent players and their fit for the Twins.

“We knew early on that we needed to target a Matt in free agency, but this class proved challenging because the options that fit for us were pretty limited. Obviously pitcher made the most sense for our roster. We knew we didn’t want to add those older corner players and we’re pretty set at catcher. Duffy might’ve been alright as a depth move, but we didn’t know if he’d make the club. When Moore and Andriese signed earlier this winter, we started getting a little nervous. Luckily it worked out for us to add Shoemaker late.”

Twinkie Town research has found that much of the Twins success in the 2000s came on the back of rostering multiple Matts. In fact, Minnesota rostered at least two Matts every season from 2004 through 2012. Levine laughed when recounting [former Twins GM] Bill Smith’s commitment to this strategy. “That 2010 team had four Matts — I mean, talk about going all in on a strategy. It worked that season though, 94-68 is nothing to sneeze at.”

Twinkie Town’s independent analysis confirmed the 2010 team did, in fact, have four Matts: Tolbert, Capps, Guerrier, and Fox. It was the only season since 2001 in which the team had that many. In that same span, three seasons had three Matts, eight seasons had two, and five have had just one.

Falvey said, “When we came in, we were intrigued by this approach. It was one of the only things we carried over from the previous administration. But, we were going to do it our way.”

“We’ve had one every year we’ve been here... we definitely don’t want three, that has been the kiss of death for some of this franchise’s worst clubs. TR [former Twins GM Terry Ryan] made sure I knew that when I took over for him,” Falvey explained.

True to Ryan’s guidance, when Minnesota has rostered three Matts in a season since 2001, it has just a 233-254 record (.478 winning percentage) — the lowest of any of the Matt permutations. Those seasons were 2007, 2008, and 2012 and were all seasons the Twins did not make the playoffs.

When reached at his Philadelphia office where he now works for the Phillies, Ryan was happy to offer his thoughts on his former club’s Matt affection. “Billy kind of overdid it with that “All in Matt” season in 2010. His commitment to it caused that mid-season overpay for Capps because he wanted to get to four Matts. It worked out OK the rest of that year, but after that it sort of fell apart.

Ryan added, “Then he tried to augment two Matts with two Renes [Tosoni and Rivera] in 2011, and that just made the wheels fall off. Cost him his job. I moved away from the name based strategy when I got back in there.”

Ryan confirmed to Twinkie Town that he did give “the Matt strategy” one last go in 2012 [Capps, Carson, and Maloney], but that season’s 66-96 record convinced him to swear off the strategy altogether.

Aside from a sentimental reunion with reliever Matt Guerrier in 2014, Ryan did not roster a Matt for the rest of his Twins tenure through the 2016 season.

As for the current Twins leadership, Levine added, “We think one Matt is the optimal number. We tried two in 2018 [Belisle and Magill] and that just did not work out.”

The data backs that approach up. The Twins have been a playoff team all three years when they’ve had just one Matt under Falvey’s leadership and went 78-84 and missed the postseason in 2018.

Accordingly, Falvey confirmed the Twins are done adding Matts to the 2021 club.

Twinkie Town reached out to Shoemaker to get his thoughts on being such a key piece of the Twins strategy and offseason puzzle. “Wow, I had no idea. They definitely did not disclose these details during our negotiations. After you guys mentioned it, I went to baseball-reference.com and did some homework. Hopefully my Twins career can be as successful as Matt LeCroy, Matt Guerrier, and Matt Tolbert,” Shoemaker said. “Those Matts won some games!”

As for the longevity of the Twins’ Matt strategy, it would seem to be in decent shape for the near future. According to the United States Social Security Administration, “Matthew” was a very popular baby name in the early 2000s, ranking in the top 5 most popular each year from 2000 to 2006. That would seem to bode well for Minnesota through 2030 or so, as the supply of big league ballplayers named Matt should be plentiful. After that it could be a little more dicey. The popularity of the name has dropped steadily in the years since 2006 and was all the way down to 23rd in 2019.

For the time being, though, it’s clear the Minnesota brain trust has found yet another competitive advantage to exploit.


John is a contributor to Twinkie Town with an emphasis on analytics. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnFoley_21.