Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Twins are a Utilitarian Commune of Brotherly Love

The Twins have been an unusually successful small-market team over the last eight years or so. Tim Kurkjian speculates: Twins Thrive with Team-First Philosophy. Nice title - carefully employed slant alliteration!

When Twins manager Ron Gardenhire returned to his office after his team's first exhibition of the season Wednesday, he saw a note on his desk from first baseman Justin Morneau. It read: "Gardy, I forgot to do my sprints after the workout today. So I am fining myself $100.''

Gardenhire laughed. "That's entertaining,'' he said.

Then he stopped laughing. "That's leadership,'' he said.

If I had made thirteen and a half million dollars before I turned twenty-eight, I might engage in such largesse. But that's not the point: the point is that Justin Morneau, as a product of the Twins organization, engages in a self-discipline that is uncommon in baseball. OK, I buy it. But seriously - is this due to the Twins' organizational philosophy, or is this due to Justin's parents, or is this due to the fact that he grew up in a country generally recognized for genial-and-friendly-and-generous-to-a-fault persons?

I wonder what would happen if Manny signed with the Twins.

That story tells an awful lot about Morneau, who won the American League MVP award in 2006 and finished in the top five in the MVP voting this past season.

Don't tell that to pnoles.

It also tells a lot about Gardenhire, who is so respected in the Twins' clubhouse that one of the two best players on the team volunteered $100 for forgetting to run sprints.

Like I said, it might also say a lot about Mr. and Mrs. Morneau, or Canada, or anything else that might have had a formative influence on Justin... it's kind of hard to singularly ascribe this to Gardenhire's greatness. I just split an infinitive and let me tell you, as an English teacher, it felt great.

But mostly, it tells a lot about the Twins. They do it the right way, which isn't corny and isn't trite; it's the truth.

They do "it" the right "way". Thanks Tim, for not really specifying what "it" or the "way" really are. I don't really hate this article, I just hate the vagueness of the wayness that the Twins are doubtless practicingness.

And it is the biggest reason they came within one victory of making the playoffs last season despite having lost Torii Hunter to free agency, having had to trade the best pitcher in the game, Johan Santana, to the Mets, and not having their best starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, for half the season.

That must be the biggest reason. Not any of those players - none of them were the biggest reason. But that's why: the team spirit is what drove them to become more than the sum of their parts! Not just the fact that they got a season of 137 OPS+ production out of their catcher and first baseman! (For contrast, the AL Champion Rays didn't have anyone over 127). And prettygood years outta four starters!

In this era of self-entitlement among players, the Twins have none of that.

Good for them! I bet they don't have ANY of that at all! In fact, I bet that every one of the Twins vote Democratic! You have to do that once you sign!

"It is drilled into them the first day they arrive in pro ball,'' Gardenhire said. "Our coaches and instructors make sure of that.''

I'm glad the Twins' coaches and instructors drill self-entitlement out of all their players. I'm wondering if these enlightened persons in the Twins' organization will consent to share their secrets with the parents of America's teenagers, who are struggling and failing with that very task every day. But that might take away the Twins' competitive edge!

Last spring, veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez joined the Twins.In his first pitcher fielding practice, he was going through the motions, not doing the drill properly, not bringing his glove to his chest and then throwing straight through to the bases, as the Twins teach it.

I wonder what other teams teach pitchers to do. Throw straight around the bases? Bring their gloves to their ears?

Instead, he was flipping the ball submarine style to first base. After the workout, Gardenhire called Hernandez into his office and explained that there were a lot of young, impressionable players in camp and that he needed Hernandez to do things properly because that's how the Twins have always done it.

Amen! Amen! Amen! Say it again, brother Gardenhire!

He also told Hernandez that he would have to no longer wear big earrings.

Now we've gotten to the real problem: men wearing big earrings. People in Minnesota don't tolerate that kind of crap. The 2008 teams that let their players wear big earrings sucked.

The next day, without his earrings, "Livo did the drill better than anyone,'' Gardenhire said.

Eureka! Sports abilities are inextricably tied to the lack of earrings! This explains why girls are bad at sports! Excelsior!

That story explains how the Twins were able to win 88 games last season.

Because their pitchers don't wear earrings!

It explains how they finished 29th in the major leagues in home runs but finished fourth in runs scored. (In contrast, the Reds finished seventh in the major leagues in homers and 23rd in runs).

No, it doesn't. Actually, that story about Livan Hernandez doesn't explain anything about the relative difference between the Twins' and Reds' ability to score runs! Their pitchers' fielding ability has zero influence on their batters' hitting! Here's a stat that might explain the difference: the Reds' OBP was .321 last year, and the Twins' was .340! Wow!

The Twins had the highest batting average (.305) with runners in scoring position last season in part because they practice it every day of the season in batting practice.

Can someone explain how, last season, the Twins hit .305 and the rest of the AL hit .273? Must be that Amazing Batting Practiced Developed and Patented By the Twins' Organization. Except:

The AL team average with RISP, 2007: .276

The Twins' team BA with RISP, 2007: .276

The AL team average with RISP, 2006: .275

The Twins' team BA with RISP, 2006: .295

The AL team average with RISP, 2005: .273

The Twins' team BA with RISP, 2005: .271

Conclusion: Whatever led to the 2008 Twins' outlandish outperforming of the league-average numbers for BA/RISP, it sure as hell isn't some organization-wide philosophy or drill, since in 2007 and 2005 they were pretty much league-average.

Maybe the Twins' hitters have some kind of Bret-Saberhagen syndrome where they can mash with runners on only in even numbered years?

The same thing is done every day on every level of their minor league system.

How do they practice this? Again, this must be one of the Twins' organizational secrets - the secret BA/RISP drill that wins games. Well, somone should sneak into their low-A BP and find out what this amazing drill is. I hope the Reds do it. The Reds suck. They should have a higher BA/RISP.

tl;dr:

Doubtless the Twins have their own unique organizational approach to the game - and there's a lot to be said for an organization that has been pretty successful for an eight-year period on a small-market budget. However, don't bother reading Tim Kurkjian's article, because it's a poorly-researched clump of anecdotal evidence that confirms my pre-existing bias that persons from Minnesota are sanctimonious moralists.

14 comments:

pnoles said...

Fuck yeah dan-bob, I love you forever for this one, man.

Tell me, if this Twins philosophy is so fucking good, why didn't they MAKE the playoffs, and triumph over that team of old, clunky sluggers that is pretty much the opposite of everything sportswriters like to write about? The White Sox winning game #163 is pretty much the worst thing that happened to any fucking sportswriter wanting to write a story chalk-full of fluffy BS to explain why something happened.

But let's get to the root of the problem that dan-bob pointed out.

The Twins had the highest batting average (.305) with runners in scoring position last season in part because they practice it every day of the season in batting practice.

HOW THE FUCK DO YOU PROPOSE THEY DO THIS???? DO THEY TELL THE FIRST BASE COACH AND THE FUCKING BAT BOY TO STAND ON 2ND AND THIRD BASE AS DUMMY RUNNERS WHILE SOME GUY THROWS 75 MPH FASTBALLS RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING PLATE? THIS TEACHES THE TWINS HOW TO HIT WELL WITH RISP????? IS IT THAT FUCKING SIMPLE? HOW DID THE OTHER 29 TEAMS NOT PICK UP ON THIS????

I thought you were harmless, Tim Kurkjian. I really did. I thought you were really boring but never said anything blatantly stupid. But this article has completely reversed 4 years of me thinking that you were a sane, sensible boring person. Now I know the truth. You're a total fucking moron (and still boring).

pnoles said...

Also, Ron Gardenhire is well below-average in MLB as far as managers go, and I'll be VERY happy to argue that against anyone who says otherwise (even though managers aren't all that important).

Passive Voice said...

Ooooh, very nice touch getting Gmaps to look right at New Westminster.

/BC geography neeeeeeeeerd.

Anonymous said...

Instead, he was flipping the ball submarine style to first base. After the workout, Gardenhire called Hernandez into his office and explained that there were a lot of young, impressionable players in camp and that he needed Hernandez to do things properly because that's how the Twins have always done it.


Amen! Amen! Amen! Say it again, brother Gardenhire!

this is actually unique in sports. Anyone who has actually played a sport at a high level knows that veterans are given breaks and allowed to be lazy. This laziness wears off on younger people and kills teams yet teams rarely make a big deal out of it.

I'm sure you'll say that wait, with all the money that's invested in scouting, keeping every stat imaginable, hiring someone to plan optimal meal times etc... how could a team possibly allow such obvious things to kill their locker room and hurt their chances of winning games...the answer is free agency, and the fact that teams need to court players to come by showing that it is the most 'desirable' place to sign. desirable means different things to different people, however, to many it means where i can sit and collect money without doing shit.

Very few teams hold players accountable for how they practice (as you could see from the suprise from allen iverson when asked about practice a long time ago) the fact that the twins do is a big deal and likely does have a tangible effect on their wins and loses. this is a lame article to pick to rip apart. you say so yourself at the end when you acknowledge that the twins results have exceeded what they should be yet don't give a reason why

Venezuelan Beaver Cheese said...

Funny you should bring that up, pnoles. FireJay's old buddy Dayn Perry says otherwise.

dan-bob said...

Anonymous:

1. Is it really necessary to suggest that I might not have ever played sports at a high level? I suppose Kurkjian makes more sense to those of us (like you, ostensibly) who have played sports at a high level. What constitutes a high level, anyways?

2. I'm quite sure that the Twins' practice philosophy might give them a bit of an edge over other teams. That was part of my caveat at the end of the article. However, I take incredible issue with the bullshit strawmen Kurkjian throws up: that the Twins score runs without homers and the Twins hit with RISP because of practice drills.

They score without homers beacuse their team OBP is so high (um, do they practice that?) and they hit with RISP because... well, because of fucking luck (see: 2005, 2007).

As pnoles said, BA/RISP is the silliest stat to mention to prove that the Twins' practice philosophy helps them win games, because it's NOT SOMETHING YOU CAN PRACTICE.

pnoles said...

Anonymous,

Read it again. He said, plain and simple, that the Twins are capable of PRACTICING HITTING WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION.

That's possibly the stupidest thing I've ever read. If that doesn't fall under the umbrella of shit that we can and should make fun of here, I don't know what does.

Also, he attributed success to a lack of earrings. Whether that was a direct implication or supposed to be symbolic of all the discipline-related things that the Twins do, I can assure you of one fucking thing. The outcome of any season, series, game, or pitch, has never had anything to do with earrings or earring-related activity. Even if you agree with his message, the way he wrote it is fucking miserable.

Re: Venezuelan Beaver Cheese / Gardenhire.

I guess I've been prompted to explain myself. Ron Gardenhire takes too long to sort players out into roles. It takes him too long to figure out who his best players are. It kind of goes unnoticed, because who cares about wins in April, right? The decision to enter the season leading off with Carlos Gomez was a disaster waiting to happen, and it took him a couple months and a Michael Cuddyer injury to "discover" Denard Span. You have to wonder if the Twins make the playoffs if Span is your leadoff hitter from day one. I'm cheating off Baseball Prospectus a little bit here, but Gardenhire has entered the season too often with garbage players all over the roster. Even if he gets it right eventually, what happens early on still can come back to haunt you.

Chris W said...

I remember when Michael Cuddyer or some such punch and judy hitter was hitting cleanup for them regularly circa 2004.

Do the Twins do things well? Undoubtedly. Is Gardenhire a horrible manager? Absolutely not.

Are they some sort of paragon of a MLB franchise? Well...no not really.

Tom B said...

The problem is you guys think OBP and all that is some magic RPG skill tagged to MLB players. A player's OBP, OPS, etc is part learned and repeated skill and part daily routine and practice. So, the Twins' practice routine may be better than other club's. A player's OPS, OPS+ and EQA isn't some solid number that can be traded to another team like a card switching decks. Everything and anything goes into those numbers.

Anonymous said...

Tom B,

Their point is that if OBP, OPS and hitting statistics were a direct result of the Twins' routine, then the Twins would be above average in those areas EVERY year, not every other.

Obviously if your job is to hit a baseball, then things like BP will help, regardless of your team's earring policy.

Tonus said...

Maybe Gardenhire could get the Twins to practice raising their BABIP. That would really revolutionize baseball!

It's depressing to see this sort of fluff from Kurkjian, who is normally much more reasonable about baseball strategies and analysis.

Also, if the Twins instructors make sure to get rid of that nasty self-entitlement syndrome, why did they spend so much time shopping Johan Santana before he became a free agent? Wasn't Johan above such petty trivialities such as money, a sure sign of self-entitlement? Hmmm...

Chris W said...

Tom B--

It's not like the Twins are known to be a great OPS team.

Also, you take a team like the A's who, through the early 00's WERE a great OPS team, and where did the credit go? To Beane for GETTING players who were good OPS guys. Not to Art Howe for being such a great OPS coach.

The question is do the "fundamentals" that Gardenhire "peppers" (yuk yuk) his team with convert to wins that don't show up in the stat sheet? And the answer is: probably....maybe....I don't know.

It seems to me that the Twins are about as good as you'd expect a team with deep pitching and excellent defense to be. But then again, maybe they're slightly better due to "fundamentals". It's possible.

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Sopan said...

I came by a couple weeks ago and expressed my disappointment in this site in a most inappropriate way.

In the interest of fairness, I should say that this piece was fantastic. I loved this line:

"I wonder what other teams teach pitchers to do. Throw straight around the bases? Bring their gloves to their ears?"

I spit out my drink when I read that.

This was a poorly written article by Kurkjian, full of terrible generalities and you guys hit the nail on the head. Well played.