Mackey: Once a model team, Twins now lack innovation, outside ideas
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For those of you upset about Monday's announcement of a two-year contract extension for Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, I've got news:
He isn't the problem.
Rick Anderson isn't the problem. Nor is Terry Ryan. Payroll isn't the problem.
The problem with the Twins is that there is no singular problem.
The problem is they're all looking around the room at the Target Field offices saying, "OK, we know we've got to fix this." But that room is filled mostly with the same group of people who oversaw the infiltration of those problems in the first place.
The Twins were once one of the premiere organizations in baseball -- elite when it came to drafting, developing and building a core from within, and not all that long ago.
But now they lack innovation. They lack an outside perspective.
The Twins either need to add more innovative people to the room, or change the people who are in the room.
Sports are unique in that blueprints are widely available for teams to duplicate. Successful teams obviously would prefer to keep their blueprints a secret, but in this age of unprecedented information and transparency, secrecy is almost impossible.
The Oakland A's are masters at "dump" trades, drafting and platoons. They rarely miss on an opportunity to cash in on the peak value of players who are unlikely to re-sign. Also, because the A's don't have the financial resources to field a lineup of nine every-day players, they rely on platoons; Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Stephen Vogt and Eric Sogard play mostly against right-handed pitchers, while Chris Young, Derek Norris, Alberto Callaspo and Nate Freiman play mostly against left-handers.
The St. Louis Cardinals dominate two categories - offensive productivity with runners in scoring position and groundballs induced by pitchers. In any given season, you'll see Cardinals pitchers ranked at or near the top of the groundball list and Cardinals hitters at or near the top of the batting average w/ RISP list.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the kings of innovation. The Rays' media guide, for example, lists nine employees in their baseball analytics and research systems departments. They probably have several more interns who aren't listed. Because Tampa Bay operates with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, they must make up for it by beefing up their research and analytics, and manager Joe Maddon embraces this fully.
In addition, the Rays plucked their GM, Andrew Friedman, from Bear Stearns nine years ago. The Rays also hired a Pitch F/X analyst and told him to shut down his personal Pitch F/X blog ("You work for us now"), and their Baseball Systems Developer came from Baseball Prospectus.
The Twins don't have a Baseball Systems Developer. In fact, they have just two people in the baseball analytics and research department.
The Pirates hired their Baseball Systems Developer from Baseball Prospectus. He focuses his energy on defensive shift data, increasing groundball rates and researching preventative health practices for pitchers. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle recently told TribLive.com, "One of the things I've always said is, 'I don't have all the answers.' It was time for me to challenge myself."
Innovation. Outside ideas.
The Indians' director of Baseball Analytics was a sabermetrics writer who invented Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). He also graduated from MIT and worked with tech start-ups in Silicon Valley.
Innovation. Outside ideas.
"I don't want to be flippant about (that) approach (more analytics), but I'll tell you one thing - we were the team that everybody patterned themselves after for a decade," Ryan said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Monday. "So, with that being said, we've got 25 guys who are analytical, sabermetric-type people, and they're called scouts. Every one of them should be responsible, should be able to decipher some of the sabermetrics, which I do and have done, and we've done it for about 25 years here. And we've got a (statistical) department, as you know."
Of course, Blackberry was the model cell phone 10 years ago. MySpace was the model social media site.
The Rays are Apple. The Indians are Twitter.
Does this mean the Twins should rush to Silicon Valley and hire a bunch of programmers? No. Does it mean they should hire a bunch of bloggers and tell them, "You work for us now"? Absolutely not.
But the Twins don't currently have enough of an influx of innovation and outside ideas. The Twins aren't masters of anything right now. They don't do one thing better than the other 29 teams in baseball. They used to. But they don't anymore.
This needs to change, or the Twins will continue to trail far behind their peers.
The thing is, nobody is saying, "Terry, you don't know what you're doing." It's more like, "Terry, you're really good at what you do, and you could supplement it by helping to assemble a larger staff of innovative people."
In reality, Jim Pohlad should be the one initiating this, but it appears he isn't.
If you are only hiring and promoting from within, it's hard to see outside of your own ecosystem - an ecosystem that, despite the emergence of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, is lagging far behind the top teams in baseball.