The Twins model has long been one the Royals have hoped to emulate. And why not?
General manager Terry Ryan took over in Minnesota and he eventually built the Twins into perennial winners. In 2002, they won the first of four divisional titles in five years and six in nine seasons.
Sounds like a template for the Royals, right? General manager Dayton Moore has said as much.
“Terry Ryan and Minnesota Twins had a well-built farm system, and they started in ’94 when Terry took over, and for seven straight years they had (a losing record),” Moore has said previously. “In year eight, they were above .500, and in year nine they were in the playoffs.”
As Rany Jazayerli previously noted: Moore was hired in 2006, and for seven straight years the Royals had a losing record. This is year eight, and they won 86.
So what helped the Twins take that extra step to the postseason? I took a closer look at the differences between the 2001 and 2002 Twins and four things stood out:
1. A better bullpen
2. A better record compared to Pythagorean W-L
3. A different manager
4. Worse divisional competition
Let’s take a closer look.1. Bullpen improvement
The lineup remained basically intact.
In 2001: C A.J. Pierzynski, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, 2B Luis Rivas, SS Cristian Guzman, 3B Corey Koskie, LF Jacque Jones, CF Torii Hunter, RF Matt Lawton, DH David Ortiz
In 2002: Pierzynski, Mientkiewicz, Rivas, Guzman, Koskie, Jones, Hunter, RF Dustan Mohr and Ortiz.
The move from Lawton (OPS+ of 120) to Mohr (OPS+ of 100) actually hurt the Twins attack, but Pierzynski, Jones, Hunter and Ortiz all did better in 2002. Still, the Twins scored three fewer runs in 2002 than the year before.
How about the starting pitchers?
The top six starters in 2001: Joe Mays, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Kyle Lohse, Rick Reed and J.C. Romero. LaTroy Hawkins was the closer. However, Eddie Guardado had supplanted Hawkins by season’s end.
The top six in 2002: Reed, Lohse, Milton, Radke, Johan Santana and Mays. Guardado was the closer.
The name that jumps out in 2002 is Santana, but he was at the back of the rotation and made 14 starts and 13 relief appearances. In the playoffs that season, Santana was in the bullpen. It was only later that he blossomed into an ace.
The Twins’ starters had a slightly better ERA (4.46 in 2001 to 4.38 in 2002), but it was the bullpen that showed the most improvement. Minnesota relief pitchers had a 4.64 ERA in 2001, but it dropped to 3.68 the following season.
That translated to a decrease of 54 runs allowed (766 to 712). The biggest key was the emergence of Guardado, who had 45 saves and a 2.93 ERA in 2002. A year earlier, he took over for Hawkins, who had a 5.96 ERA.
As we all know, the Royals’ pitching staff was nails this year. So the offense is going to have to make a similar improvement as the Twins pitchers.2. Better than expected
This one is pretty straight forward.
In 2001, the Twins’ Pythagorean was 81-81, but they were four games better than that, finishing 85-77.
In 2002, the Twins’ Pythagorean was 86-75, but they were eight games better than that, finishing 94-67.
Finishing eight games better than your Pythagorean is a heck of an accomplishment. Who gets credit for that? Well ...3. New blood
Coincidentally, the 2002 season was Ron Gardenhire’s first as manager after replacing Tom Kelly.
Kelly, as you certainly know, won two World Series titles, so this wasn’t a matter of running some dunderhead out of town.
But clearly Gardenhire did something right as the Twins won eight games more in 2002 than would have been expected. In fact, Gardenhire’s teams finished a combined 18 games over their Pythagorean in his first three seasons as a manager.
Not too shabby. And for all the Yost detractors, this is fuel for their fire.4.Central decline
The 2001 season marked the sixth time in seven seasons that the Indians won the AL Central. In 2002, they fell below .500, which marked an end of a golden age of Indians baseball.
After posting a 91-77 record in 2001, the Indians dropped to 74-88 the following year. Add in the Royals (65 to 62 wins in 2002), Tigers (66 to 55) and White Sox (83 to 81), and the Twins’ divisional opponents had a combined 33 fewer wins in 2002 as opposed to 2001.
This may be a tall order if the Royals were to hope for a similar Central slide in 2014. The Tigers hardly seem poised for a decline, while the Twins and White Sox were simply awful this season and should improve. Perhaps the Royals can pick up some wins from the Indians a year from now.