Saturday, July 23, 2016

New Stadium Caused Twins Failure

Pat Reusse at the STRIB suggests Target stadium lead to the firing of Terry Ryan. He suggests that the expenses associated with the new stadium has fundamentally changed the Twins business model. That the patience the Pohlad's had with rebuilding at the Metrodome no longer was possible with the need to drive ticket sales with immediate success on the field.

The reality is that business model is almost guaranteed to fail. Baseball is a zero sum game, for every winner there has to be a loser. So a business model that depends on consistent winning means being above average on the field all the time.Nine teams go to the playoffs each year, 21  don't.

The teams that are successful with that business model, like the Red Sox and Yankees,  have revenue streams so large that they can  sign players, their own and free agents, at the peak of their careers and continue to pay them as fading veterans. What would the Twins record have been over the last few years if they had signed Nathan, Santana, Hunter, Morneau, Cuddyer, Hardy and Liriano? Financial considerations were part of all of those players leaving and new revenue from Target stadium is not enough to change that part of the equation.

Of course, you can ask why can't the Twins be consistently above average with the right people making the decisions. And the answer is that baseball is set up to punish success. If your success depends on drafting and developing your core of players, each time you win you are pushed down the ladder on where you draft.  Its tough to build a championship core solely with players taken that late

You can see this with the Twins. For ten seasons, from 2002 to 2011 they drafted in the top of the first round only once, in 2008 when they took Aaron Hicks at number 14.  Their next highest pick was at round 20, where they took Denard Span, Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe. Span and Plouffe are the most successful of any of the players taken at that level in the last 15 years.  Both are solid major league players,  but  neither one is the kind of player you build a championship team around.

In short, if you are going to rely as the Twins in the past have on drafting and development to build a core, then you have to have to have the patience to accept the cycles required to periodically rebuild. With five years of high draft choices and some solid international signings the Twins look like they might be ready to break out and compete in the near future.

Houston started its rebuilding process in 2008 when they took Jason Castro with the 10th pick. They added George Springer and Carlos Correa to their core with high pickes in subsequent drafts and emerged as a contender last year.   That is the player development model the Twins should be following. But the new business model, driven by an expensive stadium, doesn't allow them to wait.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sano Should Have Been at Third Base All Season ... at Rochester

The handling of Miguel Sano is a good example of the Twins recent focus on immediate results over long term development. He was called up last year because the Twins were in a pennant race and needed his bat in the lineup. His power played well until the league figured him out. Then his inability to make contact, as evidenced by his propensity to strike out, caught up to him. That was apparent at the end of last season and continued into this season without the hot start to mask it in his statistics.

The assumption by fans and sports writers seemed to be that Sano was a DH last year and a right fielder this year because he was blocked at third base by Trevor Plouffe. But it appears that the truth was a little different than that. His glove at third base wasn't ready to play in the big leagues. This is actually similar to David Ortiz, who never learned to play the field and became a career DH. It would be a tragedy if the Twins lack of patience resulted in the same thing happening to Sano. Sano, unlike Ortiz, has the tools to be a good fielder. But he needs lots of repetitions to get there and he is unlikely to get them in the big leagues with impatient owners demanding immediate results.

With Plouffe hurt and the terrible record, it probably makes sense to have Sano play out the year at the big league level. But if he hasn't shown improvement both in the field and at bat, they ought to send him to Rochester to start next year rather than hoping he will somehow figure it out in the major leagues. Its not that Sano isn't "ready", its that the Twins don't have the patience to let him develop fully at the big league level. The experiment in right field was just and example of that impatience.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Twins need New Owners, Not a new GM

The decision to fire Terry Ryan while insisting that the new GM keep Paul Molitor as manager is an indication of how far the Twins organization has come since the days when Carl Pohlad let his baseball people run the show. Pohlad's sons have come to see the Twins as part of their own identity and went into a state of panic over the Twins horrendous start.

Part of that was no doubt a result of the apparent belief of Twins management that last year's record was something to build on rather than the product of over achievement. While no one could have anticipated a nine game losing streak to start the season, even a repeat of last year was optimistic. As I pointed out elsewhere - the Twins were 5 games under .500 after the all-star break and finished the 7 games under .500 from their peak in the middle of June.

What the Twins really lacked this year is patience. As I pointed out in an earlier post, they started the season with a bunch of players who had yet to establish themselves as major league players. They are just starting to see the arrival of the bright new stars they were able to draft during their down years. The first wave of those players,  Buxton, Duffey and Rogers were all drafted in 2012 and are now on the major league roster.  Berrios and Chargois from that same draft got their first taste of the majors and are now back at AAA working on what they learned. No one since 2012 has appeared in the major leagues.  To put that in perspective Rosario was drafted out of high school in 2010. Sano has been in the organization just as long. These two are just now working at establishing themselves.

Unfortunately, the Twins owners are no longer lead by seasoned business guy who had that kind of patience. Carl Pohlad was vilified by some fans for failing to spend his money to buy them a winner. But it was his willingness to hire people he trusted and then let them do their jobs that lead to the Twins series of successes in the early part of the century. In fact, you can make the case that it was only when he closed his checkbook in frustration at the lack of a new stadium that the Twins took off. Forced to play for the future, the team centered around Terry Ryan built success from a group of prospects with a lot less talent than the current crop. Its not that Ryan has lost his touch or that the game has passed him by. Its that the owners lack the patience needed to build a team from scratch.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Twins Struggles Not Unexpected

While no one expected the Twins to lose their first nine game, that they struggled is not really surprising in retrospect. The allstar break is a good time to look back at what caused the struggles, but also to look forward to evaluate what to expect in the future.

A lot was made of the Twins almost making the playoffs last year. While a lot of people seemed to think they got better as the year went on, they were actually worse in the second half. The team that had them at nine games over .500 at the break was not the same team that ended the year.  The Twins team that ended the season was 5 games under .500 after the break.

Other than the hope that young players would improve, there was actually no reason to think the 2016 Twins would be better than the team that ended the season. To the contrary, they had lost their team leader in Torii Hunter, their starting center fielder in Aaron Hicks, their number two starter in Mike Pelfrey, their backup catcher in Chris Hermann and their fifth outfielder in Shane Robinson.

The guys who replaced those players were all young unproven prospects. In fact, 4 players in the Twins opening day batting order had less than 500 major league at bats. Rosario, Buxton, Sano and Park. Only one player on their bench had more than a 1000 major league at bats, Nunez. Two of the other bench players, Santana and Arcia were there primarily because they were out of options. The new backup catcher, Murphy, had less than 500 at bats. Arcia ended up being released and Buxton, Rosario, Park and Murphy were all demoted to Rochester. None of that was really a big surprise, or should have been. The surprise is that Sano has managed to stay in the big leagues. At least so far...

The Twins starting pitching was supposed to be improved, despite losing Pelfrey. But it was a rotation filled with question marks whose upside was steady medicority. Thats about what they got that from Nolasco, Gibson and Santana. The rest of the staff had the injuries and performance problems to be expected from pitchers who have never strung together two consecutive seasons of success at the major league level.

In addition to losing Pelfrey from the rotation, the Twins let Duensing and Boyer walk over the winter and Aaron Thompson was released at the beginning of the season. Again, the replacements were pitchers with little proven major league experience.

There was a lot of hope going into this season with all the ink and commentary about how good this team could be. There was very little thought given to how bad it was likely to be. If the Twins play .500 ball from here on out it will be a better record than last year over the same period. The last couple weeks have provided some hope that they can do that.

MLB Twins Updates