The Minnesota Twins have a different, and far more analytical, front office than in years past. Following the World Series, the AL Central club formally introduced Derek Falvey as executive vice president, chief baseball officer, and Thad Levine as senior vice president, general manager. Falvey, who has an economics degree from Trinity College, had been an assistant GM with the Cleveland Indians. Levine, who earned an MBA at UCLA, was an assistant GM with the Texas Rangers.
The new leadership team stressed collaboration when I talked to them during the Baseball Winter Meetings.
According to Falvey, he, Levine and (former interim Twins general manager) Rob Antony “shared practices from all three organizations” during November’s GM Meetings. He explained that the newly formed front office “is taking unique things from each place, and trying to blend the best of all operations together.”
Levine concurred, saying, “The combination of those three mindsets can lead us down a path of building a sustainable winner.” The former Rangers assistant GM went on to say that he and Falvey “wouldn’t have engaged in this partnership if we weren’t open-minded to the evolution of what we’ve been exposed to leading to something even greater. It’s not rigid.”
It’s also not without levity. Both are adept at tongue-in-cheek, especially Levine. He piggy-backed his comments with a wry, “We view it as very organic and evolutionary, and we hope that it will continue to grow. For one thing, we brought almonds to this meeting. We did not have almonds. That’s a ‘for instance.’ I’m not saying it’s the extent of what we’re doing here.”
Here are highlights from the Winter Meetings conversations, which took place in a group setting in the Twins suite.
Falvey: “We factor it all in. Every aspect. We’re not making decisions in a vacuum. We talk about some of the metrics we know and what a player’s value is. We can quantify some of that, but we can’t quantify all of it. It’s our job to be thoughtful about that — the long-term culture that we’re looking to build and how it impacts our team.”
Levine: “My mindset is that every year we want to go into the next season with as many, if not more, impact players — but not always the same players. In that context, impact players are guys that are going to help make the players around them better. Ideally, they are going to deliver at a very high level, talent wise, and also have a vested interest in their teammates improving. That’s our focus when we refer to impact players.”
Falvey: “To build off Thad’s point, you impact the game differently. Some guys do it with just on-field performance and what can be calculated. But we’ve both experienced some measure of success in organizations that had impact players where all of their impact didn’t show up on a stat line. You couldn’t quantify all of it. There is a unique mesh in that 25-man team, and the coaching staff, that creates impact in creative ways.”
Trades and Intangibles
Levine: “A gift that ownership has given this franchise is allowing us to make decisions on the merits of those exact decisions, rather than with a backdrop of urgency which could distort our valuation of a trade. I give Jim Pohlad credit for establishing an environment where we’re allowed to make these decisions for the right reasons.
“What we’re tasked to do as a baseball-operations group [involves] difficult decisions. We have emotional ties to players, just as fans do. We start valuing aspects that a player can deliver beyond what you read on the back of his baseball card. We will certainly factor those things in. We’re not going to make decisions entirely formulaically.”
Growing the Analytics Department
Falvey: “Not just the analytics department, but we’ll augment our baseball-operations staff throughout the course of the offseason. I anticipate having steady change — additions, I should say — in that regard. We won’t do that hastily. We’ll do that with an eye toward a long-term vision for the departments. If we don’t find great fits as we interview and dig deep… we’ll build that out over time.”
Levine: “[Director of baseball research] Jack [Goin] already has a vision for how that could look. We now need to support him with investment on the personnel side, and maybe some of the systems, to really be able to flesh that out. But in practice, between Derek’s experience and Jack’s practical application, we have a pretty good sense of what that could look like.”
Falvey: “I was impressed by some of the work that already been done. When you work for another team, you really don’t know what’s under the hood of another team when it comes to systems. It felt like there’s a good framework in place, in a system where we could access information. Thad and I both have specific ideas on the types of information we could pull out of it eventually, consistent with what we used with our past clubs. Right now it’s a good framework to build off of.”
Falvey: “The conversations I had with Paul [Molitor] early on, right after getting the job, and asking him how he operates, decision-making… I was eager to hear some of the things he was saying about how open-minded he is, the things he reads, what he tries to look up and understand more of — as you know, it’s a bit of an education process on a lot of these new stats and systems — StatCast and everything that comes out every year that’s new — and it’s our job to make sure we put those resources around our staff. It’s one thing to say there’s data out there, and there’s a whole other conversation about how to use that data. That’s where the power comes.”
Levine: “The information has evolved exponentially, in terms of how we’re utilizing it to make in-game decisions. One thing we’ve seen recently is that major-league coaching staffs are also starting to evolve. We’ve added the extra coach, which most teams used for a extra hitting coach. We’re starting to see some other teams using it as more of a strategic-type position.
“Part of what we’re seeing is that information is spiking really high, but how much are we really implementing it? In practice, if the coaches are staying the exact same, and the information was improving, we probably aren’t implementing it to its full extent. The challenge, and the science behind it, is how do you get as much of implemented as you possibly can. What teams are turning to is a little bit of a different lens, with which they’re hiring coaches — or even titles on that coaching staff — to try to facilitate that translation of information as best as possible.”
Employing a Quality-Control Coach
Falvey: “It gets thrown around, but I’m not sure ‘quality control’ is a term we would use. That’s still up for conversation. But any time you can add someone to a staff, who can impact what you do before a game — advance preparation, how you’re going to develop players, and transition players from the minors to the major leagues and back — we’re going to find ways to tap into our coaches beyond just their domain expertise. We’ll find ways to utilize staff members for different roles.
“It all depends on the person — his background and skill set, the qualities he presents on a staff. We’ve both experienced versions of that. In Cleveland, we did it with an off-the-field person. In Texas, they did it with an on-field person.”
Levine: “One thing we’re trying to evolve to is getting away from the quality-control concept, because it implies that we’ve lost control of our quality and need somebody to bring quality back in.
“We actually want this person to be more of the fabric of the coaching staff, as opposed to somebody who sits outside, effectively judging the coaching staff and, in some regards, controlling their efforts on a day-to-day basis. We want them to be part of the fabric of the franchise.”
Lineup Construction and Communication
Levine: “It starts with communication. I think today’s player is pretty malleable. He understands what direction you’re heading with him, and he has some ability to participate in that conversation. I don’t personally subscribe to the concept that you have to have a set lineup to allow people to thrive. I would hope we have an open dialogue, such that players understand that, based on the type of pitcher we’re facing, or the handedness of the pitcher, we may be maneuvering our lineup a little bit. We don’t have a very veteran club, so we should have a little more flexibility with how we use our guys.
“But truthfully, the person who should answer that question is Paul Molitor. We’re going to have conversations with him. Consistent with what Derek has said about every other department, we aspire to create an environment where people who have great ideas about contributing to the organization in specific facets will have a forum to contribute. But ultimately, Paul is going to make out the lineup. How he decides to craft it… he’ll be the one holding the pen.”
Falvey: “I don’t think there will be a day, from this point forward, that Paul and one or both of us aren’t talking about where we are with the team — our plans moving forward, and not just that night, but in general. We expect it to be, as Thad just said, a two-way dialogue. Everything changes when the roster changes. You have changes when you call players up. Who might fit best? Injuries play a role. That will always be an open dialogue, and I expect it to happen every day.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.