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Thursday, June 28, 2012

For numbers crunchers, Minnesota Twins’ old-school methods don’t add up

SABR-vention dudes will get to the bottom of this…and many other things, I’m sure.

“I’m sure most key decision-makers for the Twins have some level of sabermetric knowledge,” says (Aaron) Gleeman, “but compared to the other 29 teams, I’d be shocked if they weren’t in the bottom five.”

Gleeman doesn’t think the Twins’ relative lack of expertise in statistical analysis has been the primary cause of the team’s recent struggles, but he adds, “I’m a big believer in the idea that the more data and information available the better, so whether a team is successful doesn’t change my opinion of the importance and value of utilizing current trends and new technology.

“I’d like to have seen the Twins get more involved in sabermetrics and statistical analysis. They’ve dipped their toes in the water, while most other teams are swimming laps. By not taking into account all available information, the line being walked is much thinner. In just about any other business, key decision-makers openly dismissing new data and analysis methods would be scoffed at. But for whatever reasons, in baseball, it’s often seen as a badge of honor.”

The Twins declined to talk about their data analysis capabilities for this story. Spokesperson Dustin Morse said the team’s general manager, Terry Ryan, will discuss baseball statistics when he addresses the SABR gathering Friday morning.

Repoz Posted: June 28, 2012 at 06:47 AM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics, sabr, twins

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   1. Bug Selig Posted: June 28, 2012 at 08:39 AM (#4168333)
Does the last sentence of the excerpt sound like a burn?

Anyway, how much of a number cruncher do you have to be to look at the standings and see that what they're doing isn't working?
   2. Chris Needham Posted: June 28, 2012 at 09:07 AM (#4168344)
It's good that, after 15 years of success, we can finally dust off post 1 and use it. It's been a long wait!
   3. Kurt Posted: June 28, 2012 at 09:48 AM (#4168360)
10 years of success, but yeah.
   4. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: June 28, 2012 at 10:17 AM (#4168393)
The minor league pipeline drying up coincides pretty nicely with Terry Ryan getting kicked upstairs, doesn't it? Now that he's back at GM the Twins may have their solution in place already.
   5. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: June 28, 2012 at 10:25 AM (#4168404)
10 years of success, but yeah.

Hey, losing only 97 games with LaTroy Hawkins, Dan Perkins and Mike Lincoln in your rotation and Ron Coomer, Denny Hocking and Chad Allen in your lineup is a success in relative terms.
   6. WillYoung Posted: June 28, 2012 at 10:45 AM (#4168429)
Ryan had already gone onto autopilot during his last couple of years in his previous term. His decision making beginning around 2005 was not particularly inspiring (continuing to rely on Luis Rivas, signing RonDL White, thinking Tony Batista could answer any sort of question) and the amazing 2006 second-half of the 2006 season only happened in spite of his plans (finally dumping the Cuban Dictators - Castro/Batista - for Punto and Bartlett).

I'm glad he's back because Bill Smith was an unmitigated disaster, but while Ryan was "away" he was still around with plenty of input, and I highly doubt that he wasn't consulted on the Garza/_elm_n swap or scouting the collection of slop throwing soft-tossers accumulated to be the starting rotation.
   7. WillYoung Posted: June 28, 2012 at 10:45 AM (#4168431)
Also, for those of you at SABR - I'll be heading downtown tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday nights to join you. Are you just hanging out in the hotel bar or have you found a local watering hole instead?
   8. andrewberg Posted: June 28, 2012 at 11:39 AM (#4168524)
FTFA
"Numbers lie a lot," Gardenhire told the Pioneer Press then. "I have a hard time believing all that stuff (about the increasing use of statistics). Our scouts do that, they show me all those numbers. I show them the door. You go by the numbers and a lot of guys wouldn't be playing."


You mean like Nick Punto and Drew Butera? I shudder.

   9. Dirty Tom Rackham Posted: June 28, 2012 at 12:38 PM (#4168614)
In just about any other business, key decision-makers openly dismissing new data and analysis methods would be scoffed at.

This sounds good and all, but I'd say that's the norm more than the exception.
   10. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 28, 2012 at 12:51 PM (#4168627)
whether a team is successful doesn’t change my opinion of the importance and value of utilizing current trends and new technology.


This is kind of a remarkable statement, isn't it? "Even if they're successful doing things their own way, they still need to do things my way."
   11. WillYoung Posted: June 28, 2012 at 01:24 PM (#4168665)
You mean like Nick Punto and Drew Butera? I shudder.


I hate Nick Punto as much as the next guy, but Nick Punto is way closer to Asdrubal Cabrera than he is to Drew Butera.
   12. Cris E Posted: June 28, 2012 at 02:28 PM (#4168746)
They actually do have some success when they take their own path. Ben Revere in the first round seemed weird, but he's having a good year and may turn out to be a decent player. Punto did allow them to screw around with a very short bench and a very long bullpen and he was only really bad in the context of corner infielder hitting. As a MI he had a good glove and would play a role when asked. They waited forever for Hunter to develop, then Span, and recently Plouffe might have crested a metaphorical hill as well. They were throwing strikes and shrugging off the HR years before "pitching to contact" entered the lexicon.

If you read closely the scouts are using the numbers, and other names in the front office are pretty open to the stuff. Ron Gardenhire is the only one who absolutely recoils from numbers. The problems the Twins have lately are a lack of starting pitching, some injury problems to key people, and no middle class in their system. They've got to come up with some useful non-stars to fill the positions so that when a guy collapses like Valencia or Casilla they've got a stopgap. For example Dozier may or may not be playing well enough to keep his job right now, but they have very little else that looks plausible as a major league SS right now.
   13. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: June 28, 2012 at 02:34 PM (#4168749)
This is kind of a remarkable statement, isn't it? "Even if they're successful doing things their own way, they still need to do things my way."
I think, respectfully, that's dramatically misstating Aaron's point. He's saying that even a team succeeds without doing it "his way" that doesn't change his opinion of the value of doing it his way. That's nothing remotely controversial in that.
   14. DL from MN Posted: June 28, 2012 at 02:49 PM (#4168775)
they have very little else that looks plausible as a major league SS


They could have had JJ Hardy but Gardy wanted to get speedier players.
   15. WillYoung Posted: June 28, 2012 at 03:36 PM (#4168863)


They could have had JJ Hardy but Gardy wanted to get speedier players.


And before that, they could have kept Jason Bartlett but Gardy wanted guys who ... I forget, besides being Jason Bartlett, what did he ever do wrong?
   16. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: June 28, 2012 at 04:23 PM (#4168937)
And they could have had Mark Prior, but took Joe Mauer instead!

Wait.
   17. Walt Davis Posted: June 28, 2012 at 04:23 PM (#4168939)
Nick Punto, for his career, is +.9 WAA -- that's WAA not WAR. a lot of that is defense so maybe he's over-rated there but everyone seems to agree he's good. And even without the defense, he's above replacement. He sucks as a hitter, he's a good defender, he's flexible in termso of position and he stays healthy. No, he's probably not a guy you want starting full-time but he's a perfectly solid baseball player.

Now, Rico Carty, he was pretty gaseous.
   18. Craig in MN Posted: June 28, 2012 at 04:35 PM (#4168948)
he stays healthy


Not exactly.
   19. A triple short of the cycle Posted: June 28, 2012 at 07:41 PM (#4169050)
Three relatively new statistics, in particular, have gained credibility: "OBP," or on-base percentage, which, unlike traditional batting averages, credits hitters for getting walks; "RISP," or runners in scoring position, which is a hitter's batting average with runners on second or third base; and "WHIP," or walks and hits per inning pitched, which gauges pitchers by how many players they put on base.


Um...
   20. DL from MN Posted: June 28, 2012 at 10:38 PM (#4169134)
I saw that too. OBP is relatively new if you watched the deadball era.
   21. valuearbitrageur Posted: June 29, 2012 at 12:34 AM (#4169191)
And they could have had Mark Prior, but took Joe Mauer instead!


Looking more like a mistake all the time...
   22. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: June 29, 2012 at 03:03 AM (#4169225)
Yeah, what does Gardenhire know? He's only won the AL Central six times in the last 10 years. That's barely more than half the time!
   23. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: June 29, 2012 at 03:11 AM (#4169226)
This is kind of a remarkable statement, isn't it? "Even if they're successful doing things their own way, they still need to do things my way."


Yes, it's pretty arrogant.
   24. Lassus Posted: June 29, 2012 at 08:06 AM (#4169253)
The really funny thing about Nick Punto in relation to how much crap he gets here is wondering how many players who have been paid to play in a baseball game would have soul their souls and the souls of all their immediate relations to the devil in order to have Punto's skill and career.
   25. Aaron Gleeman Posted: June 29, 2012 at 11:23 AM (#4169392)
This is kind of a remarkable statement, isn't it? "Even if they're successful doing things their own way, they still need to do things my way."

This isn't what I was saying. Not even close.

Yes, it's pretty arrogant.

Same thing.

My point was that if something is worth doing--in this case, integrating statistical analysis into an organization--then it's worth doing whether the team is a consistent contender or a consistent cellar-dweller. That doesn't seem like a particularly "remarkable" or "arrogant" statement, does it?
   26. Kurt Posted: June 29, 2012 at 12:38 PM (#4169486)
The really funny thing about Nick Punto in relation to how much crap he gets here is wondering how many players who have been paid to play in a baseball game would have soul their souls and the souls of all their immediate relations to the devil in order to have Punto's skill and career.

We've been through this before - it's his name. If he were Chuck Armstrong he wouldn't be a punchline.
   27. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: June 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM (#4169497)
My point was that if something is worth doing--in this case, integrating statistical analysis into an organization--then it's worth doing whether the team is a consistent contender or a consistent cellar-dweller.


The Twins have done quite well with their approach. And should we really think an organization this successful doesn't grasp statistical analysis? They don't focus on it like other organizations, but I have to believe they've taken whatever wisdom they think is there. They apparently feel they have a good formula and it has worked pretty well.

"Arrogant" was probably harsh, as I've read your work and you don't seem like that kind of guy.
   28. cardsfanboy Posted: June 29, 2012 at 01:17 PM (#4169522)
Three relatively new statistics, in particular, have gained credibility: "OBP," or on-base percentage, which, unlike traditional batting averages, credits hitters for getting walks; "RISP," or runners in scoring position, which is a hitter's batting average with runners on second or third base; and "WHIP," or walks and hits per inning pitched, which gauges pitchers by how many players they put on base.


Anyone who thinks OBP is a relatively new statistic that has recently gained credibility is an idiot. The only thing that has changed is the de emphasisizing of the batting average, the acceptance of the strikeout, not the increasing importance of obp.

In fact the acceptance of the walk, is why that silly risp comment is a wtf? It used to be argued that the goal of a batter with risp was to put the ball in play, even if it results in an out because "if you put the ball in play, you never know what can happen" type of thought process.


Of course if someone asked me what three "stats" someone should learn when it comes to baseball beyond the back of the baseball card, I would say ops, ops+ and era+ would be where you start. I can't imagine someone taking whip ahead of era+ in evaluating a pitcher(except maybe relievers of course)
   29. andrewberg Posted: June 29, 2012 at 01:36 PM (#4169543)
They apparently feel they have a good formula and it has worked pretty well.


There is also a question of resource allocation. The front office has limited time and money to spend preparing for the draft, trades, free agency, etc. If they feel like spending a larger percentage of that time/money will detract from the overall product, that's a valid concern. In this case, I agree that integrating more analytics would probably be beneficial, but it is not inherently irrational to think otherwise.
   30. Cris E Posted: June 29, 2012 at 02:51 PM (#4169642)
Anyone who thinks OBP is a relatively new statistic that has recently gained credibility is an idiot.

Paint the author of the article with that brush. As easy or tempting as writing something like that is, no one in the front office was saying those things.
   31. cardsfanboy Posted: June 29, 2012 at 03:03 PM (#4169657)
Paint the author of the article with that brush. As easy or tempting as writing something like that is, no one in the front office was saying those things.


I was.

I do not think that even the most backwards front office, would be completely clueless about statistical analysis, the way this article tries to portray the Twins.
   32. spycake Posted: June 29, 2012 at 04:30 PM (#4169722)
I'm glad he's back because Bill Smith was an unmitigated disaster, but while Ryan was "away" he was still around with plenty of input, and I highly doubt that he wasn't consulted on the Garza/_elm_n swap or scouting the collection of slop throwing soft-tossers accumulated to be the starting rotation.


I think this is unfair to Terry Ryan -- even though he often frustrated media and fans, TR's work was about the polar opposite of Bill Smith's. TR was very conservative at trading, although when he did make a deal it was usually unexpected and generally worked out in the Twins' favor. On the other hand, Bill Smith was aggressive at trading to the point of being obvious -- Santana's entering last year of deal? Trade him for whatever you can get. Losing a RH power bat in the outfield (Hunter)? Trade for Delmon Young. Nathan is injured? Trade top prospect for Capps. Losing power reliever to free agency (Crain)? Trade Hardy for Jim Hoey (ugh). When most of your moves are demanded and/or predicted by fans/media, that's probably a bad thing -- you need to be creative in this field to get ahead, or even to not fall behind.

Also, although TR participated in some frustrating roster decisions (i.e. Juan Castro starting shortstop), it doesn't appear that he "gave in" to Gardenhire as much as Bill Smith did (Butera, Hardy, Capps, extending Nathan, etc.). When virtually all of your moves are met with 100% approval from your manager, again you are probably not doing your job right.

I am looking forward to TR re-branding this team as his own -- it will still be frustrating at times, but I think he is going to further illuminate the differences between him and Smith. (Assuming he's interested in keeping the job for a few years.)

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