Saturday, August 27, 2005

Spitting the Kool-Aid

As SBG pointed out in yesterday's comment thread, Sid has declared that this season rates as Gardy's Best Managing Job Yet:

Managers get Manager of the Year awards when they win pennants.

Well, I believe Gardenhire has done a better job of managing this team than he did with any of his three Central Division champions.

For dealing with the injuries and the average replacements coming up from Class AAA Rochester, Gardenhire should get a medal for keeping this team in the wild-card race.


Nobody ever stopped Grandpa Sports from polishing anyone's apple before, so far be it from little ol' me to take away his homer hankie now. However, I would like to point out a few things....

1) The pitching staff, the strength of the team, has not suffered a significant injury loss all season. No member of the bullpen on Opening Day has been on the DL, and the regular rotation has made all but 4 starts. The Twins won 3 of those 4 starts, while Dave Gassner and Scott Baker combined for a 2-1 record and 4.12 ERA. Baker posted a 3.00 ERA in his pair of starts, while Gassner had a memorable Win in Cleveland before getting knocked out early in the dome by the Royals. Yet even when KC lit up Gassner, the Twins still won the game, 10-9.

2) Twins 2nd basemen this season have combined to hit .255/.315/.335. Not good. Yet, the Twins 2B's last year hit .257/.308/.425. Also poor, just a respectable amount of pop. But wait: is the team suffering at the position because the regular starter went down and the replacements weren't up to par?

No. Luis Rivas hit .257/.303/.297 in 43 games at the position. The veteran Bret Boone hit .170/.241/.170 in the two weeks of that disastrous experiment. Otherwise, the rest of the patchwork replacements have combined to hit .266/.333/.377. Nick Punto has hit .285/.337/.430 at 2B, and Brent Abernathy has hit .308/.378/.385 at the position. The manager can't blame the backups and AAA replacements for creating the hole here. That's mostly on Rivas and Boone. And who decided to bring back Rivas or take a flyer on Boone? Did Gardy approve?

3) The Shortstops have combined to hit .239/.278/.335, compared to .271/.310/.378 last year. That's a drop. But I think it's also fair to point out that Jason Bartlett was producing Guzman-level offense when he was sent down to AAA in May. It was the manager's choice to play the no-stick veteran utilityman Juan Castro in his place, who has hit .257/.276/.383 at the position, rather than see how the rookie Bartlett might have developed through the season. For whatever reason, Nick Punto's respectable bat at 2nd base has completely disappeared when he's played SS this year (.198/.250/.228 in 30 games), and it is also the manager's decision to keep sending him out there even since the promising rookie has rejoined the team.

Gardenhire must realize he's not going to get much offense when he writes Castro's name into the lineup, and that he's been getting auto-outs when he plays Punto at the spot, so I have to assume he just doesn't care. He's making a conscious choice to play experienced glovemen whom he trusts not to make careless errors in the field. That's his call, but then he forfeits the right to complain when his noodle bats fail to hold up their part of the offense, too.

4) Michael Cuddyer had a genuinely awful April. He's still struggling with consistency, and his numbers with runners on base/scoring position this season are poor. Odd, because last year he was excellent with men in scoring position. All that, plus his throwing problems at 3rd base, have made him a popular whipping boy and scapegoat. However, he has shown improvement at the plate and in the field since his rocky start to the season. Since the start of May, he's hit .270/.346/.441. I don't have fielding splits, but from watching I think his throws across the diamond have been much more consistent in the last couple months. As it happens, his .937 FP at 3rd base is even better than any other Twin to play the position this year, except for Nick Punto who hasn't made an error in 69 innings at the hot corner.

So after Gardenhire decided to stick with Cuddyer at the end of April, why did he take away the regular 3B job from Cuddyer in late June?

It looks like a typically knee-jerk move by the Twins manager: on June 22, Cuddyer had a hit in 3 at-bats but made 2 errors in an 8-1 loss to the Tigers. The Twins were losers of 4 straight games, and 9 of 12 dating to the start of their fateful series in Los Angeles, which we discussed yesterday. After winning 7 straight series, the Twins had now lost 4 series in a row--and would lose another in Milwaukee the following weekend. Michael Cuddyer would be the scapegoat. The next day, Glenn Williams was 2-for-4 as the 3rd baseman in a 6-2 win, giving him 10 hits in his first 8 games in the majors. Just like that, Cuddyer was back at Super Utility duty.

Cuddyer started one more game at 3B that month, the day after Williams got hurt, but then Cuddyer went on the Disabled List himself. When he returned, Gardy had decided he liked having utilitymen such as Punto and Rodriguez at the position.

Again, he made a conscious choice to forsake offense for slicker glovework. Nobody forced Gardenhire to bench his best bat at the position so he could watch utilitymen bat .221/.323/.337 (that excludes Tiffee and Williams). He's responsible for the consequences of his decisions.

5) Since Torii Hunter broke his ankle on July 29, his regular replacement Lew Ford has hit .282/.327/.437. Meanwhile, since Matt LeCroy became the regular DH, he's hitting .266/.348/.481. The offense scored 4.08 runs per game with Hunter in the lineup in July (and Torii hitting .270/.324/.340 for the month); 4.04 rpg without him in August.

How much of a handicap has Torii's injury proven to be, really?

We all know this offense is lousy; the Twins are tied with Seattle for 12th in runs scored in the AL. The team EqA of .249 rates 27th in the majors. Kansas City is the only AL team that is worse. But you know... it was pretty bad last year, too, when the team ranked 10th in the league in runs scored. It didn't just happen because the team got too young or the manager was stuck with scrubs who played worse than the regulars they replaced.

Terry Ryan had his chance to address weaknesses in the lineup last winter, and he opted instead to focus on limiting roster attrition, managing worst-case scenarios, and spending money on mediocre and poor talent, including some guys who were big parts of the problem last year. Even so, Gardenhire had options with upside throughout the lineup, which he often squandered by choosing to play slick glovemen who couldn't hit a lick.

The GM and Field Manager failed to get the most out of their resources this year, in a season when Shannon Stewart is having the worst year of his career, Jacque Jones has had two big months but was MIA for three, and the Team Leader in Centerfield had one good month at the plate and chose to mark the occasion by ripping his younger teammates in the press. You know, 34% of the team payroll is going to those three outfielders, but it's been a long time since I heard any of the grand pooh-bas talk about whether they're delivering value for the money. I certainly have not heard it this year.


The veteran outfielders are blameless! The manager is doing his Best Job Ever! We're giving freedom to the Iraqis! Hail, Dear Leader! Whatever's gone wrong, it's the fault of People Who Hate America and those damn Inexperienced Kids!

Here, have another glass of Kool-Aid.

2 Comments:

At 8/27/2005 7:35 PM, Anonymous snoopydogg said...

Say, that would'nt be some of that Jim Jones Guyana suprise Kool-aid would it?... on second thought pour me a double

 
At 10/28/2005 4:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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