Since Wes Johnson took over as the pitching coach for the Minnesota Twins, the team’s pitching has made big improvements. That’s no accident.
Despite their recent 4 game skid, the Minnesota Twins are off to a good start this season. They are leading the AL Central Division with a 12-7 record, despite only hitting .241 as a team. The reason for that lead is their pitching staff, a group led by Kenta Maeda, Randy Dobnak, and a talented relief staff that currently sports the third best ERA in the American League.
Behind all of this great pitching lies the maestro, the mentor: pitching coach Wes Johnson. We are familiar with some of his backstory, including that he was hired by the Twins after having served as a college pitching coach for many years. We also know that he is the first major league pitching coach to ever make that transition.
But let’s take a closer look at Wes Johnson, and more importantly, his pitching philosophy that has turned a mediocre pitching staff into one of the best in baseball.
Johnson was a college pitching coach for nine seasons, most notably at Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas, where he was coaching when Rocco Baldelli scooped him up for the Twins job.
Prior to that, he was a successful high school and American Legion head coach. It became easy to tell the pitchers Johnson worked with, as most of his pitchers had increased velocity on their pitches.
When he was brought into the Twins organization, his love of analytics fell right in line with the direction that Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine were guiding the team. Mixing algorithms with established internal systems, the Twins and Johnson have conveyed information to the pitching staff to help them better understand their mechanics.
For the best and most successful example of Wes Johnson’s work, let’s look at the performance of Tyler Duffey over the last two seasons. Duffey has been transformed from a mediocre (at best) starting pitcher to a dominant reliever, mostly due to advice from Johnson.
As a starter, Duffey had several pitches he would throw in an outing. While Johnson usually has his pitchers work more on their secondary pitches in order to throw fewer fastballs, after watching Duffey pitch, he did the opposite.
Johnson convinced Duffey to become less reliant on his weaker secondary pitches and concentrate more on throwing his fastball and his wicked slider. Duffey said in a recent interview, on Fox Sports North’s Minnesota Twins pre-game show, that Johnson wants a pitcher to concentrate on throwing his best pitches in critical situations.
Johnson has said something similar: “I believe it’s our job as coaches is to find what a guy does really well and try to find a way to get him to do that more, as opposed to finding what he does bad and tell him he’s got to get better. Whoever you want to look at, they’ve all done things well to get here at some point in their career. So we tend to focus more on that.”
So there you have it. That positive viewpoint is just one of the many reasons why Wes Johnson has been such an effective pitching coach for the Minnesota Twins. He has instilled confidence in this pitching staff by allowing them to do what they do best, while also keeping them loose with his jovial manner. During a long season, a little humor never hurts. It’s all a part of what we like to call, “The Wes Johnson Effect.”