06/29/12 2:00 PM ET
Ryan speaks as guest of honor at SABR 42 convention
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
"I was told it would be a panel," said Ryan. "It looks like it's a panel of one. Me."
Indeed, Ryan was the guest of honor Friday at SABR 42, and he was more than up to the difficult task of entertaining some of the world's most diligent baseball fans. The longtime executive covered many topics on his own, and then he fielded questions from a crowd of statistical-minded people.
Ryan was brutally honest at the lectern, at times poking fun at his beleaguered team, and at some dubious past personnel decisions of his own. Ryan even interrupted one answer about his best trades to lambaste himself for bad ones, and he pointed out that he once released David Ortiz.
But the most interesting answers were the unexpected ones, the pieces of insight that can only come from someone in the inner circle. For instance, Ryan said that it's one thing to scout the big leagues and another to scout the low Minors, and he said that statistics are useless at the lowest levels.
At one point, Ryan discussed the difficulty of evaluating a postseason showcase like the Arizona Fall League, which he likened to a "country club" atmosphere. Players only play three or four days a week in the AFL, he said, which complicates the process of reading how they performed.
Ryan even said that he doesn't really understand why people use video to scout amateurs, a trend he has never really followed. He prefers reports from scouts that he trusts and good, long looks at players with his own eyes, but Ryan said there's a place in the game for advanced analysis.
"It's a piece of the equation. It can be paralyzing because there's so much information available," said Ryan. "Stats sometimes are invalid. Sometimes, they are valid. I don't get too deep into career stats. I like to look at a year or two of history.
"I know there are experts in this room on stats. We have experts on our staff. Some teams are deeper in it that others, but it's a piece and a valuable piece."
For years, Ryan has been associated with pitchers like Brad Radke and Kevin Slowey, guys that don't necessarily light up the radar guns but pepper the strike zone with pitch after pitch. That, in turn, has led to the perception that he doesn't value velocity, a judgment he found to be specious at best.
"I take a lot of criticism about hard throwers," he said. "We've got hard throwers. They're in the Minor Leagues ... for a reason: They don't have 'pitchability.' I know all about hard throwers. Nobody wants to face a guy like [Aroldis] Chapman, who's throwing 101 mph without really knowing where it's going."
Ryan, who has worked with the Twins in one capacity or another for more than two decades, took that object lesson a step further. He said that even a guy like Radke threw 90 mph, and he said that he'd never try to draft a player who didn't have command and control of his fastball.
The fastball is the game's most important pitch by far, he said, and pitchers with good curveballs in the Minor Leagues often don't translate to the Majors because the pitch is rarely called a strike.
"We aren't drafting a guy in the first round off a changeup," he said, correcting a misperception. "When you start talking about offspeed pitches being dominant pitches, it's a recipe for disaster."
Ryan said that Target Field has changed his team's Draft philosophies. The Twins used to look at left-handed pitchers and hitters when they played at the Metrodome, but he said that the team's new outdoor facility favors right-handed hitters and outfielders who can cover a lot of ground.
One of Ryan's favorite topics is organizational stability, and he said that he briefly stepped away from the GM role in 2007 because he feared the organizational culture might corrode around him. Ryan returned to the chair last November, and he said he's still relearning the depth of big league talent.
The veteran decision maker said that he likes to have people around him for a long time because it eliminates the guesswork and gives you a better chance of reaching common ground. That's why he feels so comfortable with manager Ron Gardenhire, who he's known for decades.
"I knew Gardenhire when he was a player," Ryan said. "He's a leader, he's got charisma and he's very good with the media. Players congregate around this guy and he's honest. He's got a resume as a player and he was a tremendous Minor League manager. He was underneath Tom Kelly, [who] is a good mentor. He was good at about everything he did except be a Major League player.
"There's nothing more important than going into a room with a player and telling him, 'You're done.' Gardy's got a pretty good knack for being able to handle situations like that, and it's a tough gig."
When asked what he'd change about baseball, Ryan said that he'd like to see all games on travel days be switched to the daytime. He also said that he felt arbitration was the worst rule ever enacted by Major League Baseball and that the league needs to make sure performance-enhancing drugs are gone.
He also found time to discuss the new breed of general manager -- many who come from non-traditional backgrounds -- and said he's the furthest thing away from Dave Dombrowski and Theo Epstein. But despite their differences, he respects his peers and wants nothing but respect in return.
"The game has changed, and not just general manager-wise. It used to be that it was always lifers," he said. "[Diamondbacks executive] Roland [Hemond] is a lifer. I'm a lifer. We're probably the exception nowadays.
"It's the Harvards and the intellect and the statistical [analysts] to some extent, but if you look at any successful general manager, he's going to have the attributes of leadership and organization and work ethic. It comes down to that. It doesn't matter where you come from or how you got in."
Hemond, who was sitting in the front row during Ryan's speech, surprised the longtime executive with an announcement of his own. Hemond said that next year, the SABR-presented award that's named in his honor will be given to Ryan, one of the men he respects most in the game of baseball.
Ryan was visibly touched by that announcement, and he said that he'll be at SABR 43 -- held in Philadelphia -- whether or not he's still employed by the Twins. Ryan is listed as the interim GM, and he joked Friday that he still holds that title because his wife hasn't decided if he should be permanent.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.