In his first season James Rowson turned around the Minnesota Twins lineup into one of the league’s best.
The Minnesota Twins made an incredibly difficult decision last offseason that culminated on December 1st, when former hitting coach, and fan favorite from his playing days, Tom Brunansky was replaced as the team’s hitting coach by James Rowson.
Rowson had a brief minor league career after being drafted out of high school by the Seattle Mariners. He played for the Mariners and New York Yankees for 3 seasons before playing a year of independent ball in 1998.
Rowson joined the New York Yankees coaching staff in the minor leagues soon after he retired in 1998, and by 2006, he was the minor league hitting coordinator for the entire New York Yankees system. In 2012, he left New York for the same position with the Chicago Cubs, taking over as the Cubs’ hitting coach in June of that season when the Cubs fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. He spent another season with the Cubs before returning to the Yankees as their minor league coordinator, a position he still held when hired by the Twins.
As discussed in this article from Sports Illustrated just after the season, the 41 year-old Rowson encourages players to question anything and everything he tells them to do in order to allow the hitter to allow the hitter to better understand what works for him in the batter’s box, whether that’s a high leg kick or a short stride, hands high or low, whatever works to allow a good bat through the zone is what Rowson wants the hitter to do, and he has worked with each Twins hitter to accomplish that.
For many experienced players, that would make sense, as they’ve had major league success with their swing, but with a young roster like the Twins have, Rowson’s approach encouraged young players to grow up, take ownership of their own future path, and understand his own body and approach.
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The end results in Rowson’s first season were obvious. The Twins finished 7th in all of baseball in runs scored with 815. As a team, the Twins hit .260/.334/.434 with 206 home runs, a 9.5% walk rate, and a 21.4% strikeout rate. Twins hitters collectively had a .174 ISO, let the league with 14.2 baserunning runs (per Fangraphs), had the 4th-lowest ground ball rate in all of baseball at 41.5%, the fourth-highest line drive rate at 21.2%, and the fourth-highest fly ball rate at 37.3%.
The Twins swung at the third-lowest percentage of pitches outside of the zone, swinging at 27.2. The Twins also forced pitchers to make the pitch they wanted to hit, swinging at just 44.8% of total pitches. The Twins also ranked among the top 5 in the league against cut fastballs (by far #1, actually), split fingers, and sinkers, with top 10 performances against sliders and curve balls both as well as four-seam fastballs.
I think the most impressive is just to compare this season’s raw numbers to previous seasons. The runs scored in 2017 were 5th best in Twins history, behind the 1977, 1996, 2008, and 2009 teams. The 206 home runs were third most in team history behind the 1963 and 1964 teams. The .434 slugging percentage is the second-best in team history. The 593 walks by the team was the 6th most by a Twins team.
If there were an award for the best position coach in baseball each season, certainly Rowson would be worthy of the selection, and Twins fans should be excited for the future with the work he was able to do in his first season!