Monday, November 14, 2016

On keeping Neil Allen

To the extent that the dismissals of coaches Tom Brunansky and Butch Davis has drawn fan reaction, it appears to be: How did Neil Allen keep his job?

Allen, of course, is the Twins pitching coach, and the Twins pitching numbers in 2016 were ... really bad. The team ERA was more than a half-run worse than the next worst team in the American League (Oakland). They allowed more hits, homers, earned runs and unearned runs than anybody in the league.

So it's a fair question: If you're shaking up the coaching staff, how does Allen get a pass?

I think there are two reasons, which intertwine:

* Manager Paul Molitor has one year left on his contract. Even as front offices take a ever-increasing role in decisions that were once left solely to the field manager, they seldom force a manager to have a pitching coach not of his choosing -- and particularly so when the manager is working to keep his job. If Molitor wanted Allen, he was going to get Allen.

* Allen has a plan. As explained in this piece, published a month ago by the Pioneer Press' Mike Bernardino, the new focus at all levels of the system will be on fastball command.

I can see this detailed, specific approach appealing to chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, whose reputation is based in large part on his work on pitching in the Cleveland organization. Allen has identified and quantified a specific, organization-wide problem and devised a specific, organization-wide plan to attack it.

Falvey said a week ago that he wanted to see who in the organization wanted to "get on the bus" of "evidence-based solutions". Allen already had a ticket.

But here's a curious thing. A decade ago, fastball command was the hallmark of the Twins system. It's why the Detroit Tigers hired Rick Knapp, then Minnesota's minor-league pitching coordinator, to be their pitching coach. As I recall, Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager at the time, said that the Twins keep calling up rookie pitchers who threw strikes, and he wanted some of that.

Since Knapp left, the Twins haven't fared so well at developing fastball command.

Which may mean that Eric Rasmussen, who has been the pitching coordinator since Knapp's departure, may be more in jeopardy than Allen was.

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