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Spring Throws a Curve

Spring training canceled. Major League Baseball season suspended. But in the face of uncertainty and challenge, one alumnus is using his passion for data—and skills he honed at Bethel—to keep the Minnesota Twins ready for baseball’s return.

By Jason Schoonover '09, content specialist

June 22, 2020 | 5 p.m.

Spring Throws a Curve

This story originally appeared in the summer 2020 issue of Bethel Magazine.

On opening day this spring, baseball stadiums across America—including Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins—sat empty. Players shared stories online with the hashtag #OpeningDayAtHome. Fans watched replays of their favorite games from the isolation of their homes, sheltering in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

After an offseason of promise and hope for the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball canceled spring training in mid-March and postponed the start of the season in response to COVID-19. Baseball, like countless areas of everyday life, came to an unexpected and abrupt halt. But Twins President Dave St. Peter was already planning for the future. “Baseball will return,” he told reporters. “Our job is to be ready for that.”

Jeremy Raadt ’04 is one of the leaders tasked with ensuring the Twins are ready when baseball returns. As director of baseball systems, he leads a team that creates software and programs to track statistics and data to improve the Twins. When priorities shifted from preparing for opening day to adjusting to remote work, he and his team of developers were thrust into a new challenge. “We live at the intersection of technology and baseball,” he says. “Without games being played, everyone is turning to technology as an opportunity to continue to make the team better.”

Jeremy Raadt ’04

Minnesota Twins Director of Baseball Systems Jeremy Raadt ’04 is blending his love of baseball and his passion for data and information to help the Twins adapt during an era of unprecedented changes and a season of challenges.

A dream job

Months before COVID-19 gripped the world, Raadt walked across an empty, snow-coated Target Field on an overcast January morning. The mood was one of excitement and hope. A day earlier, the Twins had introduced third baseman Josh Donaldson after signing him to a $92 million contract, the largest in team history. The former MVP joined one of baseball’s best lineups, one that led the team to a 2019 American League Central title. That day, Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic highlighted how the signing was part of a new era of Twins baseball under Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine. The baseball world was buzzing about the Twins. “Together they’ve deconstructed and then rebuilt the oldest of old-school organizations with sweeping, systematic changes to scouting, player development, analytics, drafting, coaching, and all things in between,” Gleeman wrote.

Since Raadt joined the Twins as the team’s first baseball developer, he’s been a driving force in that rebuilding process behind the scenes. Assistant General Manager Daniel Adler commends the work of Raadt and his team as vital in today’s game.

While the players rightfully receive accolades when the team succeeds, Jeremy’s team is just as important to our success. Without the work of his team, the ways we make trades, sign free agents, and coach players would all be inferior to our current processes.

— Minnesota Twins Assistant General Manager Daniel Adler

Raadt admits the opportunity fits him like a glove. “This has been kind of a dream job,” he says. He grew up combining his love of baseball with his love of math and numbers. He copied box scores and stats into notebooks at the library to seek patterns and ways to understand the game. Playing video games, he focused on franchise modes where he could construct rosters and make trades. He played baseball, but admits he was more of a mathlete than an athlete, displaying an affinity for computers and starting a part-time job as a software developer in eighth grade.

By the time Raadt graduated from Bethel with majors in computer science and business finance with a concentration in small business management, his favorite sport was in a time of transition. After people like statistician Bill James pioneered baseball analytics, baseball data started catching on with teams, and the book and subsequent movie Moneyball helped bring baseball science and data to the broader consciousness. But it was only the beginning. Data exploded throughout baseball—for teams and even fans like Raadt. While working in software development, he used the treasure trove of public baseball data to build computer projection models. “It was strictly a passion,” he says. “I loved the data. I wanted to try to figure it out.’”

Raadt reached out to the Minnesota Twins in 2014 to request additional data to use in his models. Instead, he received a job interview. He didn’t expect to get the job, but he communicated in his interview a desire to use data to create meaningful insights and empower the team. He was hired.

Raadt credits his Bethel professors with helping him develop the skills that ultimately made him hirable to the Twins. His computer science courses taught him how to learn and adapt in a growing and changing field. But perhaps most importantly, business and economics faculty helped him overcome his biggest weakness, teaching him how to communicate and present ideas. “I felt like the professors knew that if they could influence their students, that would have ripple effects on the rest of students’ lives in society, and they really took that to heart,” Raadt says.

Spring Throws a Curve

The information age

In Target Field’s visiting clubhouse, Raadt points to an indoor batting cage. “We’re always trying out new gadgets to see what can give us an edge,” he says. “So we’ll come down here and just test stuff out.” Such work is common, a America’s pastime is now firmly in its information age. Teams are using many tools to track data and are always looking for more. “Technology’s getting more and more impressive,” Raadt says. “It’s really a cool time to be part of baseball.”

When Raadt started, the Twins had a small database of stats and information, and they only had about six cubicles—some unfilled—for developers. Today, Raadt’s baseball systems offices for research and development are spilling over into former conference rooms. He estimates the team gathered more data in two weeks of the 2019 season than it had during its entire history before 2014. “That’s how much data we’re getting,” he says. “Every year it’s exponentially growing as we’re starting to get new sensors and new technology.”

Along with identifying players to pursue in trades or free agency, teams can use data to alter a hitter’s swing and launch angle to produce more power, or change a pitcher’s grip to produce more spin and movement on the ball. But such steps require communication and collaboration— from the major league club all the way through the Twins’ farm system. Adler calls Raadt and his team a key competitive advantage for the Twins. While most clubs have access to similar data, the Twins seek to stay a step ahead by quickly generating insights from data and then communicating those insights throughout the organization. “Jeremy’s team is pivotal to both of those tasks,” Adler says. “The way they work with the other functions of our baseball operations group— research, scouting, coaching, and administration—allows us to make the most of the data and research produced.”

Raadt says “a culture of inclusiveness” in the organization is vital. For years, stereotypes often pitted some players and scouts as old-school baseball “jocks” butting heads against new-school “nerds” in front offices. The depiction of this divide is Raadt’s biggest complaint about the movie Moneyball. While divides still exist, Raadt sees the Twins’ ability to overcome them as a key to the team’s success. He takes pride in the ways his baseball systems team collaborates with coaches, the strength and conditioning staff, and scouts to find ways technology can help them.

Coming out stronger

The Twins’ inclusive culture is proving even more important as the team strives to be prepared to win when baseball returns after the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the season was delayed, much of Raadt’s role has focused on supporting the hundreds of coaches, scouts, and front office personnel who rely on the Twins’ baseball systems. “It’s been invigorating to work with our leaders and my team to figure out what this new world looks like,” Raadt says. “Instead of giving up or being complacent, we kicked it up another gear and are working toward building new tools and capabilities to ensure we come out even stronger.”

In some ways, the switch to remote work was smooth. Raadt’s developers are capable of working anywhere with an internet connection, and the team had already built many tools to support the frequent travel of scouts and coaches during a regular season. But social distancing and quarantines also brought new challenges for Raadt’s baseball systems team. Without the ability to physically scout players, they’ve explored ways to scout in a virtual environment, looking to add troves of videos online so scouts can continue to work from home. They’ve looked for ways to continue developing players, while also building tools and reports to allow coaches to analyze data in new and greater ways. In return, coaches and scouts have reached out to Raadt asking what they can do to help. “It’s incredible to see everyone coming together and really supporting each other,” he says. “In baseball you don’t give up—you just get stronger.”

Getting through this together Even before COVID-19, baseball was facing a tumultuous offseason in the wake of investigations into the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox—2017 and 2018 World Series champions, respectively—for illegally stealing pitch signs. But in a climate of questionable ethics that is often part of professional sports, Adler credits Raadt for setting a strong example.

While we are all focused on winning, Jeremy is a key moral voice when the temptation to ‘win at all costs’ can be very real. He epitomizes the servant-leader ideal. He’s selfless and humble, and leads his team not because of his title, but because he has earned the respect of each member through the way he’s demonstrated that he cares about their personal growth and the success of the team.

— Minnesota Twins Assistant General Manager Daniel Adler
That leadership continues serving Raadt as the team faces the challenges of COVID-19. On top of baseball, he feels a responsibility to ensure he’s caring for the people on his team first as they adapt during a difficult time. He admits it’s been tough for many to adjust to the new normal—the solitude, uncertainty, and the need to balance life and work at home. “What an incredible opportunity we have to serve people right now,” he says. “People don’t need to be managed. They need to be loved. They need to be served. They need to know they’re not alone and we’ll get through this together.”

Raadt’s faith is a driving force in how he treats others, and it’s giving him comfort during uncertain times. He often turns to Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” COVID-19 has given Raadt more opportunities to share his faith with others when they ask how he stays positive and calm. His faith, he says, provides hope and a perspective larger than a pandemic. “Light always shines the brightest in the dark,” he says, “and I feel an obligation to be that light to people who need it.”

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