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!!!!!"


  1. If the Mets were smart, they would hire Gardenhire, a former Met player and coach, to be their new manager. He knows how to win, at least in the regular season, and I think their demented fan base will take that at this point. And, as is so often the case, the best managers were usually mediocre players. Girardi, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog... Joe Torre was an exception.

    Of course, if the Mets were smart, they would not be the Mets. Ba-dump-bump-ching.

  2. Jay, I think you are on track with this defense. Gardenhire is an excellent manager and sometimes you just match up with the wrong team. Of course Minnesota has holes to fill and they were a good, not great team. Liriano is their ace, and he is a great one, but the rest of the staff is sorta iffy (even if they had solid results muc of the year). More and more, one ace is not enough in the playoffs; world series teams are bringing at least a pair of aces to the table.

    One thing I really appreciate about the Twins though is how I have yet to hear of any excuses about losing. This is a team that lost one of MLBs best Closers (Nathan) and a former MVP who consistently puts up MVP numbers (Morneau). Those are HUGE holes to fill...

    Unfortunately, the Yankees were simply a better team in this series. You are right too.. there is only so much a manager can do to affect a game.

  3. seems like Pavano was in too long in a deciding game with twins playoff record?

  4. I'm not going to weigh in on the 'Fire Gardenhire' question; although I do lean towards Jay's point of view.

    Last December, shortly after the Yankees won 27, I spent two weeks in the greater Minnesota area on business. Between getting blasted at bars with one of my clients, I found myself spending a few hours each night at a wine bar next to the hotel shooting the shit with the resident bartender. We talked a lot about baseball and one of the obvious topics was the lack of luck the Twins have had against the Yankees.

    And that's exactly what the two of us always came to a consensus on - luck. Gardenhire is a great manager and obviously we all know about some of the great breaks the Yankees have found against their favorite first-round foes. And even beyond the breaks, games are going to fall one way or another for a myriad of reasons beyond a manager's or even a player's control.

    If I were a Twins fan, it wouldn't make me feel any better, but nine games in a row (eight of them from behind) is really just a statistical bump and nothing more. They'll fire Gardenhire; they'll sweep (or at least take) a series from the Yankees in the post-season someday; they'll feel vindicated. That's life and that's baseball.

    Fuck... I'm starting to sound like Sterling.

  5. First Jay--and Matt from the previous post--good to have you back, hopefully for a long time, but I understand if not. I've checked back here a lot and missed you guys.

    I agree with your post, Jay, and about Gardenhire. The guy is an outstanding manager. He isn't prone to bone-headed moves, has a good even keel, motivates his players, and got a team that lost an excellent closer in Nathan (to me, one of the three best closers in the game) before the season, and a first-rate first baseman in Morneau during the year, and a great catcher in Mauer for some time, to win their division. He can manage.

    I like Dave Pinto's stuff, but I couldn't disagree more with him. It's a classic case of faulting the manager instead of the team and, honestly, upper management. They built a team that was very lefty-heavy and lacked front-line starting pitching. Their pitching over-achieved, especially in a weak division. They didn't just struggle against the Yankees during the playoffs, but against the AL East during the season. I don't think they would have beaten the Rays in the playoffs, to be honest. Blaming Gardenhire for their losing to the Yankees again, and urging that the Twins fire him as a result, is patently idiotic to me. Send a message to the team? Like they don't know what just occurred!

    Onward and upward in the ALCS.