Sunday, October 10, 2010

162 > 3: In Defense Of Ron Gardenhire

Postseason baseball can be a thrilling month-long adventure, or it could be a terrible trip that lasts less than a week. A six month season will be judged on what happens to a team against top-tier competition under pressure-packed conditions in what can be as few as three games. Some players who have a terrible year can totally redeem themselves with a few big hits in a postseason series while others who have done yeoman's work since April can turn into a goat because of a split-second reaction in the outfield, one pitch left over the plate or a feeble at-bat with runners in scoring position.

The same goes for managers. A skipper can be viewed as a genius or a dummy after the fact, based on how he aligned his rotation, filled out his lineup card or inserted his relievers into a game. Or in this case, just the end results of three games against a superior team.

Take it away, David Pinto:

Ron Gardenhire has now lost 12 straight playoff games. He’s been swept by the Yankees two years in a row. If he were the Yankees manager, he would have been fired last season. I really don’t care how well the team has done under him.
I believe what Pinto is trying to get at here is that he doesn't care how they've done during the regular season under Gardenhire, which of course is incredibly stupid. Regardless of how much you think a manager can influence a baseball game, 162 of them tells you a whole lot more about someone's abilities as a manager than three nights in October do.

Managers just don't have the ability to affect games over the short term, unless they want to pick a pitcher from High-A ball to start Game 1 of the series, pencil players into the wrong defensive positions and order them to bat from the opposite side of the plate they are accustomed to. Good managers are skilled at steering the ship over a interminable season and making good decisions that will work out well in the long run, but simply can't exert much pressure in the span of three games without trying to throw the series.

I'm sure losing 12 straight playoff games absolutely sucks for the Twins' organization and their fanbase, but what does the 2004 ALDS have to do with the series that concluded last night? Do you know how many players started games for the Twins in both series? Two. Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, and they might actually be the same person.

Pinto's not done yet:
The Twins team is good, but they need to be sent a message that getting swept every year is unacceptable. Firing Gardenhire will send that message.
I'm pretty sure that the Twins are aware that getting swept every year in unacceptable. Does this look like a bunch of dudes who are thrilled to be starting their offseason already?

What exactly has Gardenhire done to deserve being fired? What thing that was under his control did he screw up? Did he start someone that deserved to be benched? Was it the way he set up the starting rotation? A boneheaded bullpen move?

It's not any of those, of course. Pinto is just judging Gardy in black and white terms, which is something that a casual fan or George Steinbrenner at his most impulsive would do, not someone who goes by the Twitter handle @StatsGuru.

It's not like Gardenhire has some "Marty Ball" scheme and manages differently in the playoffs. It's not as if he has a pregame ritual wherein he runs around the clubhouse wearing only an unbuttoned Harmon Killebrew jersey screaming at the top of his lungs, which renders his pitching staff incapable of holding a lead.
The Twins, however, need someone ruthless in the playoffs who can find a way to win not only a game, but a series.
What "ruthless" mystery manager is going to be able to lead the Twins to postseason glory and by what means? Should we exhume John McGraw so he can get into a fistfight with an umpire? Perhaps an undead Gus Schmeltz would be willing to whip every fielder who makes an error with a riding crop and force the team to take batting practice using a lead pipe and jagged rocks.

Because THAT would send a message, goddammit. And that message would read, "The Minnesota Twins don't understand the concept of small sample sizes or the role that luck can play in a short playoff series, so they fired one of the best managers in baseball in favor of a sadistic zombie. Muthaphuckkkazzz1!!!!!"