The Minnesota Twins' Firing of Terry Ryan Is the Result of Unrealistic Expectations
The Minnesota Twins' franchise isn't one that changes often. They've had three managers since 1987, and only two men have called themselves the team's general manager since 1995.
That just pushes the changes they do make to a whole new magnitude.
Minnesota Twins announce GM Terry Ryan has been relieved of his duties. Assistant GM Rob Antony as Interim GM. pic.twitter.com/LF2iYotKZ9
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 18, 2016
Terry Ryan was in the midst of his second stint as general manager, having served in the role from 1995 to 2007 and then again from 2012 until now. Despite the Twins' 33-58 record, the reaction to the news should be indicative of how big of a surprise this move was.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 18, 2016
Wow. They did it. Wow. https://t.co/41SbQ7J8c6
— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) July 18, 2016
How did we get to this point? If a team like the Twins is moved to shake things up, you know the brown stuff hit the fan in a big way, and that seems like an accurate assessment of the Twins' season thus far.
It turns out, in the end, that Ryan was a victim of overblown expectations.
The Curse of a Winning Season
The Twins weren't expected to contend in 2015 as everyone assumed they were still a year away from reaping the benefits of their stocked farm system. They promptly went out and finished the year with an 83-79 record, sniffing a playoff berth until the final weekend of the regular season.
On its face, that seems like a great thing. But in actuality, there were signs that the Twins had outperformed their record that season, setting them up for an extreme failure in 2016.
The first indicator of the Twins' impending doom was their run differential. Despite their above-.500 record, they were outscored by opponents, 700-696, giving them a Pythagorean win-loss record of 80.5-81.5. Based solely on their run differential, they were still a below-average team, and even that run differential included a heavy dosage of luck.
You can quantify luck by viewing their season through the lens of something so eloquently titled "cluster luck". The basic gist of this concept (which you can read more about at The Power Rank) is that a team's weighted runs created (wRC) should somewhat align with their total runs scored for the season. That was not the case for the Twins.
They finished that 2015 season ranked 23rd in wRC at 637. As such, you would expect them to sit roughly 23rd in runs scored, as well. Instead, they were all the way up in 13th place at 696. Their hits were clustered such that they greatly exceeded their expected run total, meaning regression should have been assumed for 2016.
Combine these two factors -- outperforming their Pythagorean win-loss and benefiting from cluster luck -- and you can see why the Twins were primed to take a step back in 2016. However, it didn't seem that the front office grasped that sizable gap as their only key moves in the offseason were signing Byung-Ho Park and trading outfielder Aaron Hicks for catcher J.R. Murphy. Those two moves likely wouldn't be enough to turn a team that should have been a good chunk below .500 into a contender, and that's exactly what we've seen in 2016.
If the Twins had hypothetically performed with neutral luck in 2015, then the internal expectations may not have been as grandiose as they seemed to be entering this campaign. This may have altered the course of the Twins' moves in the offseason, either prompting them to shed assets to further bolster the farm system or to be even more aggressive in order to compete sooner. Instead, they seemed to operate under the assumption that 2015 was legit, that the team was on the brink of the playoffs and the events that followed led to Ryan's termination.
This isn't to say that Ryan is merely the victim of public perception, by any means. Sporting News' Jesse Spector placed the Twins 28th in his June front-office rankings, and ESPN's Dan Szymborski gave them the worst front-office rating in the league in his forward-looking power rankings. Those low ratings stem from much more than just one offseason of moves as the team has also struggled with poor free-agent signings and an inability to develop talent once it reaches the big leagues.
But would this move have been made had the Twins not contended in 2015? That seems unlikely, given the franchise's aversion to change, thus making it possible that Ryan's axing is -- in a strange way -- attributable to the team's success last year.
The Next Step
The timing of the move is more than a wee bit strange with the trade deadline lurking just around the corner. But you would assume it wouldn't limit the team in what should be an active period for them.
Ervin Santana holds a 2.18 ERA over his past five starts, but his 4.28 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) indicates that's largely the product of a small sample size.
Eduardo Nunez has somehow turned a 29.6% hard-hit rate and 20.6% soft-hit rate into an All-Star selection and a .313/.339/.474 slash with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
Fernando Abad has dazzled out of the bullpen with his 2.73 ERA, but his 4.01 SIERA shows that's not necessarily a valid indicator of his true talent level.
Everywhere you look, you can see assets on this team that resemble those 2015 Twins. Their current performance is not indicative of what you should expect from them going forward, thus making them prime trade candidates, especially on a team that's not built to contend right away.
If the team is truly moving on from Ryan and changing its mindset, then it will try hard to sell these players as the trade deadline approaches. If not, they'll be the ones who experience the downturn in production that lies ahead, and they won't get any compensation in the form of prospects to improve the future outlook. If they truly want to show that this move was made in the efforts of changing up the way the organization operates, they'll be active sellers, specifically on the players whose success doesn't seem likely to stand.
It's never easy to fire a guy who has been with the team for as long as Ryan has. If it weren't for a surprisingly good 2015 season, it may not have gotten to that point. But now that the Twins have made that move, it's time to accept that they are closer to their 2016 record than the one they posted last year. If they fail to capitalize on their lucky position as a seller in a seller's market, then Ryan's firing may have been for naught, leaving the team in an even worse position than it was before his dismissal.