MINNEAPOLIS – The Twins made news headlines locally and nationally Tuesday when they extended manager Paul Molitor’s contract, and made it apparent that they were in the market for a new Major League pitching coach and probably a minor league pitching coordinator.
They also announced two hires that didn’t make the front-page headlines, but figure to have a significant impact on the fortunes of the franchise. Daniel Adler was officially announced as the Director of Baseball Operations, and Jeremy Zoll was named the Director Minor League Operations. These are two guys a background in analytics, and they’ll be tasked with building the systems that help power the Twins as an organization, from talent acquisition to player development and beyond.
The Twins also moved Brad Steil, the former minor league director, to a new position, Director of Pro Scouting. Derek Falvey said that move will give Steil a chance to acquire a skillset that he hasn’t had yet. And last but not least, the Twins promoted one of their summer operations interns, Ezra Wise, to Baseball Operations Assistant. Wise and Steil had already been in the organization, and Adler actually started in his new role over the middle of the summer, replacing Jack Goin in the Twins front office. Zoll, a 2012 graduate of Haverford College, joins Minnesota after a few years working in the Dodgers organization.
“He came from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and we’re excited to have him, fortunate to have him,” Falvey said. “He comes highly recommended by the people that he’s worked with and around. He’s going to give us the opportunity to bring in some new ideas into what we’re doing developmentally, and he’s an excited add to our staff.”
Adler holds a JD/MBA from Harvard, has worked in baseball’s Labor Relations Department, and he’s also done analytics work for Boston Consulting Group, and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Zoll was a catcher in college, and he’s also spent the past two years as the Dodgers’ Assistant Director of Player Development under Gabe Kapler. According to a press release from the Twins, Zoll “worked with Dodgers player development leaders regarding on-field philosophies and special programs, and aided the Research and Development department in the implementation of various initiatives.” That description strikes me the same way I think of the role on the Twins coaching staff of Jeff Pickler – who also came from the Dodgers organization: Bridge the gap between learning things through data and models and the like, and then find a way to put it into practice that makes sense for the people who actually have to do the work. The primary difference is that Zoll will oversee the minor leagues, a crucial phase of development for any successful Major League player.
In theory, if an organization is even a few percentage points better at developing talent in the minor leagues, it should boast a big advantage over the competition. Developing players internally costs money, time and other resourches, but it’s likely a more cost-effective strategy than trying to reload a team on the free agent market every winter. Again, in theory, if a team can take Pitcher X, who has a 50% chance of being a productive big leaguer and a 5% chance of being a big-league star, and then maximize those chances, that’s a real edge. Mutliply that edge across dozens of pitchers throughout an organization year after year, and pretty soon that adds up to real wins and losses in the Majors.
This isn’t to suggest that any smart person with a baseball background will automatically be a successful hire. And I’m not even fully aware of the ways in which the Twins will use these guys in their new roles. It’s just to say that investing in “research and development” and hiring people with strong credentials – in research and baseball – could be a competitive advantage for the Twins.
The name “Molitor” is much more recognizable to baseball fans than Adler or Zoll, but in terms of wins and losses and creating a championship organization, the latter two could play a significant role behind the scenes.